'Bee Man' Norm Gary Featured at WAS Conference at UC Davis

Aug 11, 2017

Honey bees intrigue, delight and fascinate Norman Gary.

In fact, they have for 70 years. Seven decades. Yes, that's how long he's kept bees.

Norm Gary's 70-year career includes both hobby and commercial beekeeping, but you probably know him by his other credentials:

  • 32 years as an entomology professor teaching apiculture at UC Davis
  • More than 40 years as a bee research scientist with more than 100 publications
  • Author of the 174-page popular book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
  • 40 years as a consultant and bee stunt coordinator for 17 movies, 70 TV shows, and 6 TV commercials

There's another side to Norm Gary you may not know. He initiated and spearheaded the founding of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) and served as its first president.

So when WAS returns Sept. 5-8 to its roots--UC Davis--for its 40th annual conference, Gary will lead a nostalgic discussion on the founding of the organization. The presentation takes place at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5 in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC). Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen will join him. Mussen, co-founder and founding vice president of WAS, is currently serving his sixth term as WAS president. 

Gary's career amounts to "the bees' knees." That 1920s phrase, meaning "the height of excellence," characterizes and defines him. In fact, you may remember the seven-piece jazz band that Gary formed--the Beez' Knees--that played professionally in the Sacramento area from 1995 to 2004.

A musician since childhood, Gary plays clarinet (B-flat clarinet!), alto sax, tenor sax and flute either in bands he's organized or with other professional musicians. He's entertained at the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee since 1979, wowing the crowds with such tunes as "When the Saints Go Marching In," "If I Had You," "Just a Little While to Stay Here," "New Orleans," "Long Way to Tippary" and "My Gal Sal."

But back to the bees.

A native of the small farming community of Oak, Fla., Gary turned a fascination for bugs at age 4 into hobby beekeeping at age 15 when his dog led him to a dead tree containing a wild honey bee nest. He transferred them to a modern hive where they became his “pets.”

Gary's interest in bees never wavered. He received his doctorate in apiculture at age 26 from Cornell University in 1959. While there, he was active in the Eastern Apicultural Society, the impetus for launching its counterpart, the  Western Apicultural Society.

Gary joined the UC Davis faculty in 1962 and developed and taught the first insect behavior course at the university. He also developed and taught a graduate course on the use of television for research and teaching. He retired from academic life in 1994, but not from his bees and his music.

A world-renowned professional bee wrangler, Gary trained bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. His credits include “Fried Green Tomatoes”; appearances on the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states. He once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. He holds the Guinness Book of World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt.

Today the Sacramento area resident continues his love of bees and music, maintaining a website at www.normangary.com/

Like he's done much of his life, Norm Gary will focus on bees and music at the WAS conference. "Norm will talk about bees and his memories of organizing WAS," Mussen said, "and at our banquet, he will provide the background music."

WAS Conference:  It's a conference filled with educational topics, networking, field trips, a silent auction, door prizes and fun, Mussen said. Speakers will include bee scientists, beekeepers and industry representatives. Most events will take place in the UC Davis Activities and Recreation Center and surrounding facilities associated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, Conference participants will tour the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, Häagen Dazs Honey Bee Haven (half-acre bee friendly garden), both part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and Mann Lake Ltd., and Z Specialty Foods, both of Woodland.

WAS, a non-profit organization, represents mainly small-scale beekeepers in the western portion of North America, from Alaska and the Yukon to California and Arizona.  Beekeepers across North America will gather to hear the latest in science and technology pertaining to their industry and how to keep their bees healthy.

There's still time to register to attend the conference, which is open to all interested persons. Registration is underway at http://www.westernapiculturalsociety.org/2017-conference-registration/ or contact Eric Mussen at ecmussen@ucdavis.edu for more information.