PARKMAN - "My life has been evolutionary, not revolutionary...things just took one day at a time and everything worked out."
Ingram Berg Shavitz (known as 'Burt' Shavitz or the 'Bee Man'), the co-founder of Burt's Bees, died Sunday at age 80 due to a respiratory condition. Burt was a master beekeeper and celebrated photojournalist who prized living on his land in Parkman, Maine with his goldens, Rufus and then Pasha.
Burt was born in Manhattan, NY on May 15, 1935, to Nathalie Berg and Ed Shavitz. He grew up in Great Neck, Long Island where Burt spent most of his time outdoors and taking photos with a camera he got at age 6. Once, at age 11, he rode his bicycle 100 miles to Montauk, stopping at local jails to sleep. (The deputies called his mother to get her okay.) Burt and his brother attended Takajo summer camp on Sebago Lake in Maine, where his curiosity in nature intensified and love affair with Maine began.
After college, Burt spent two years in the military, serving in Bamberg, Germany, where his lack of interest in soldiering landed him a job as a photographer. Burt began his career as a photojournalist in 1960s New York City. He apprenticed with photojournalist W. Eugene Smith and eventually worked for Time Life, with writers like Tom Wolfe, and photographing notable figures such as Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy and the March on Washington. At the same time, he emerged as an eccentric fixture on Manhattan's nightclub scene, known for his hats and flamboyant handlebar mustache, people called him the 'mad hatter'. As Burt would say, "New York was a scene, it was series of scenes" and "a good time was had by all."
In 1970, Burt attended the first Earth Day celebration in Central Park. In the next few years, he saw the writing on the wall, that print media was being eclipsed by television and decided to get out of the city. Soon after, he won a grant to study the effects of pollution on the Hudson River Valley. There, he met his 'guru' a beekeeper who gave him his first hive.
By the mid-seventies, Burt was living meagerly and without electricity in a turkey coop that he restored himself on 20 acres of land in Dexter, Maine. He had around 50 beehives and sold his bees' honey out of the back of his truck, which he painted 'school bus' yellow to attract customers. He was known around town as the 'Bee Man'.
And, of course, the bees.
In the early 1980s, he met Roxanne Quimby, and together they expanded Burt's honey business into Burt's Bees, which went from craft fairs to NYC boutiques to global natural beauty brand over the past 30 years.
In the early 1980s, he went on to found the natural beauty care brand, Burt's Bees, first incorporated in 1989. After a short relocation to North Carolina, Burt returned home to Maine, where he lived with his golden retrievers, Rufus and Pasha, on around 40 acres of land in Parkman, Maine. Of his home in Maine, Burt told The New York Times in 2014 "It's good and sufficient, and it takes care of me. Everybody has their own idea of what a good place to be is, and this is mine."
As the 2014 documentary Burt's Buzz made clear, Burt was perhaps the most reluctant cultural icon and beauty mogul around. "A good day is when no one shows up and you don't have to go anywhere," he told the filmmakers. "I get four channels spring, summer, fall, winter out the window." His true loves were nature, his four-legged best friends, and of course, the bees.
There will be a private ceremony held to honor Burt's life. In lieu of flowers, go for a walk in the woods, watch the sunset, bathe in the lake, or spend some quality time with a furry four-legged. That's what Burt would have wanted. If you'd like to share your thoughts, memories, or stories about Burt, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.