Monday, June 20, 2011

A Man of Courage

I have met many interesting people in my lifetime, but I think Bill Haast was near the top of the list. Haast ran the Miami Serpentarium where he housed many thousands of deadly snakes. He was a showman who knew how to manage his audience as skillfully as any snake charmer from India. Haast would remove a snake from its container and place in on the floor in the courtyard. The crowd would shrink back with a collective hiss as the Cobra rose up and spread its head cowl in an intimidating manner. Haast would then seize the reptile by the tail and grab its neck just behind its head. He would squeeze the snake’s throat to force its jaws open, then insert the teeth over the edge of a flask and milk the venom into the container.

I first became aware of Haast through a mutual friend who had once lived nearby and had known him for many years. According to the stories I heard about Haast, he was not fearless, and certainly not reckless. Instead he was confident in his own abilities and aware of what his work was contributing to saving lives. The antivenin produced from the snake venom served as an antidote to any poisonous snakebite if injected quickly at a medical center. Haast was bitten several times in his work, but always managed to survive despite becoming quite ill on several occasions. Bill Haast died today at age 100. Not bad for a man in such a hazardous occupation. You can click on the title to this article and read Bill’s obituary in the Washington Post.

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