Noel Randall Grove died on January 8, 2022, at his home in Paris, Virginia, from complications of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurological disorder. He was born on January 25, 1938, in South English, Iowa. Grove grew up roaming the Iowa countryside around his family farm. His love of nature and the outdoors sprang from the green fields of his home state. He spent endless hours wandering the local streams and rivers, dreaming of a life of exploration and adventure, which he ultimately fulfilled when he joined the staff of the National Geographic magazine.
Grove graduated from McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, in 1959, majoring in English. Following his graduation, he was an English and speech teacher at Inman High School, reporter and wire editor at the McPherson Daily Sentinel, and reporter and night editor at The Hutchison Daily News.
In 1969, he joined the National Geographic magazine staff—first as a legend writer, rising to the position of Africa area specialist and ultimately head of the environment department, a division created for him by then editor Wilbur Garrett. At the time, Grove said, “I was an outdoorsman long before I was a writer. It’s almost unbelievable that my personal concerns and professional responsibilities have merged.”
Grove wrote 28 bylined articles for the magazine, contributed chapters to several National Geographic books, and was the author of eight published books in addition to a plethora of magazine and newspaper articles. His favorite NGM articles included coverage of the Vestmannaejar volcano in Iceland, a country where he felt a kindred spirit to the people’s love of life and song; Iceland remained his most favorite place of all in a lifetime of worldwide travel. The Appalachian Trail, which he also covered for National Geographic, was another favorite; there he found the solace he always did in nature. And in the 1980s, while covering a story on the automobile, he delighted in another lifetime highlight—the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance, where he completed a competition on road racing, which left him enthralled with the sport of speed.
In 1990, Grove helped found the Society of Environmental Journalists, a non-profit national journalism organization created by and for journalists who report environmental topics in the news media. In 2010, he was honored at a special ceremony for his key role in the organization’s creation. He also had a successful career as a lecturer with a focus on the environment, and he served as a charter member of the Bicycle Federation, a leading advocate of bicycling in the United States.
For nearly 30 years, Grove and his wife, Barbara Payne, lived on a small farm near Middleburg, Virginia, having restored an 18th-century log cabin on the property. He would spend hours in the back fields on his vintage tractor, cutting walking paths throughout the property, fashioning rustic log seats on which to sit and contemplate. Each evening, he would walk the land, often with a drink in hand.
He was an active participant in the Middleburg Players, a community theater group in Middleburg, Virginia. A lifetime singer, he had a beautiful tenor voice and often played the lead in plays. Singing gave him great pleasure, whether in theater, jamming among friends, or serving as the lone tenor in Middleburg’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church—a commitment he fulfilled for 30 years. In addition, he was an avid tennis player, bicyclist, and hiker. Overall, the written word remained his mantra—a constant source of pleasure and peace.
In 2005, the couple moved to Paris Mountain in the Blue Ridge to restore a cabin overlooking Noel’s beloved Appalachian Trail and Sky Meadows State Park. He was reassured by the fact that the protected view would not change, that development would not tarnish the landscape. He served as president of the Blue Ridge Mountain Civic Association, an organization dedicated to preserving the unspoiled beauty of the mountain on which he lived.
Grove is survived by his wife and four daughters, whom he adored: Lisa Greening (Tom Greening), Amy Canby (Mac Canby), Beth Grove (Kirk Ebensteiner), and Eleni Grove (Carlos Bustamante). In addition, he had six grandsons: Dawson, Connor, Parker, Ben, Indigo, and Sage. His survivors also include siblings Maryl “Babe” Grove, George Grove, and Saralee Hawkinson. He was predeceased by his sister Marilee in 2020.
Noel lived with progressive supranuclear palsy for more than seven years, battling through misdiagnosis, swallowing and speech issues, immobility, and dependency—always with grace and courage.
Memorials may be given in his memory to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (appalachiantrail.org), Blue Ridge Hospice (brhospice.org), or Cure PSP (psp.org).