OXFORD, Miss. – Whether at work or at home, Don Stanford is always looking for the next adventure.
“I really enjoy doing anything new or anything challenging,” Stanford said. “I’ll be right in the middle of those projects to try to shepherd things through and make things happen.”
Stanford is assistant director of the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, part of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy. He first began working with the school as a senior research technician in 1980.
“Don has been an integral part of our team for years,” said David D. Allen, the school’s dean. “His talent is impressive on multiple levels.”
As assistant director of RIPS, Stanford oversees and directs the school’s infrastructure and research operations. He has organized a team that is responsible for facilities and information technology. The team is in charge of everything inside the school’s buildings, including research equipment.
Outside the School of Pharmacy, however, Stanford is just as ambitious. He said he loves to be outdoors and will “take any excuse to be outside.” A professional tree climber, Stanford has climbed trees that are 200 feet tall.
“For a while, I was going to the annual rendezvous for Tree Climbers International,” he said. “They held it in different places, in Oregon and Nebraska and Colorado. I would stay a week, and we would camp up in the trees.
“We would use a ‘tree boat’ to camp, which is a heavy-duty hammock that you sleep in. You use a harness to get up into the tree, and then you are anchored to a limb up above. When you sleep, you stay in that harness and never come out of it.”
In the past, Stanford has acted as a certified facilitator for various guided tree climbs.
“I’ve taken people up into trees – I always had extra equipment to rescue them if they got stuck,” he said. “People have their ceilings when it comes to heights. For some people it’s 20 feet off the ground, and for others it’s much higher.”
Stanford is also a member of an 800-acre hunting club in Lafayette County, though not for the reason one might think.
“I hardly ever hunt; it just gives me an excuse to go sit outdoors,” Stanford said. “I photograph the interesting things I see. I really enjoy nature photography.”
Stanford is known around the school for his interest in hot air ballooning. He began flying in 1979 after watching a PBS documentary about wildlife photographers using a balloon to photograph African animals.
After earning a commercial pilot license, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration for passenger balloon pilots, Stanford flew at festivals in Canada and France. One of his most memorable flights was for a presidential candidate.
“In 1980 when Ronald Reagan was the Republican nominee for president, his campaign people hired me to fly at an outdoor rally in Columbus, Mississippi, where Mr. Reagan was to speak,” Stanford said. “The plan was for him to make his opening remarks; I would launch and fly over the stage while the audience was still applauding. Because it was very windy, we had to rush the launch and I interrupted Mr. Reagan in the middle of his opening remarks. He paused, looked up and said, ‘Wow!'”