“Great oaks from little acorns grow” is an old adage that could well apply to the life of James Marshall Shepherd, Ph.D., a world-renowned meteorologist who grew up in Canton. His mother, Frankie Ferguson Shepherd is a retired educator and honored local community and political activist.
On Feb. 15, Marshall Shepherd was back in Cherokee County to speak at a History Cherokee event in Canton. His ties to the Canton community run deep. His maternal grandfather, Charlie Ferguson, and uncle, Tony Ferguson, were instrumental in organizing the first black volunteer fire station in Georgia. A former fire station in north Canton is being renovated and has been named the Charlie Ferguson Community Center.
Shepherd, like his mother, is an educator. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in physical meteorology from Florida State University (FSU). Shepherd was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from the Department of Meteorology at FSU. He began teaching meteorology at the University of Georgia after working at NASA for several years.
Shepherd’s interest in meteorology was really by chance. As a child, his first interest was entomology, a study of insects. When he discovered he was allergic to bees, he developed an interest in the weather. After graduating from Cherokee High School, he enrolled at FSU, which, at the time, had the nation’s oldest and most respected department of meteorology.
An atmospheric scientist, Shepherd is in great demand as a speaker at professional events, as well as at college and university graduations. He has received many honors for his work in meteorology, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
The multitalented meteorologist is an author of meteorology books for children, and a TV personality who hosts the Sunday talk show, “Weather Geeks” on The Weather Channel. He and his wife, Ayana, recently wrote a book, “40 Days and 40 Nights: Daily Tales (and Lessons) From a Suburban Home During the Coronavirus ‘Quarantine,’” describing their family’s experiences while quarantined due to COVID-19. Follow his journey on Facebook, @DrMarshallShepherd, and Instagram, @marsh4fsu.
– Margaret Miller has been a resident of Cherokee County for the past decade. Her writing hobby led her to become a columnist for community and daily newspapers.