- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Robby Ellyson waited for a rainy night to make the first drop.

His mission: Introduce goldfish to the reflecting pool behind the new wing of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

His dilemma?

The 76-year-old didn’t know what might happen if he got caught.

“When I saw the pond, I said, ‘Fish. The pond needed goldfish,’” he said. “I have a friend who worked at the museum who said they had cameras that covered every inch of it. So I figured the only way to do it in the summertime was to wait for a thunderstorm.”

The rain, he reasoned, would give him a chance to slip in with his head discreetly covered with a hooded jacket in case someone noticed and tried to identify him later.

It worked. He said he ultimately made four rainy-night fish drops at the museum and the fish thrived and multiplied, some growing to 5 inches or longer.

Ellyson can’t remember now exactly when he introduced the fish to the pond, but the reflecting pool opened in 2010 and the museum publicly acknowledged the anonymous addition of the fish in 2013.

All was well as far as Ellyson was concerned until last week, when a friend alerted him that all the goldfish had disappeared from the pond.

Ellyson began making calls to investigate, deciding to go public as the fish’s anonymous patron in the process.

“The children loved those fish,” he said. “They’d get down on their knees and go, ‘Fish, fish, fish.’ “

A spokesman for the VMFA, Anthony Backherms, confirmed in a statement that the fish perished in January.

“It is with sadness that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts acknowledges the recent death of the goldfish that lived in the museum’s Gottwald Reflecting Pool,” Backherms wrote.

Backherms said the museum’s maintenance staff attributed their death to a malfunctioning filter in the pond, “which allowed chlorinated water into the pool and created an inhospitable environment for the fish.”

He noted that the pool was never intended to house aquatic animals of any kind, “but following the unexpected introduction of the goldfish by anonymous visitors several years ago, VMFA made changes to the pond’s water supply and filtration system in order to create a stable environment for the animals.”

The museum has no plans to reintroduce fish to the pond, Backherms said.

Told of the museum’s position, Ellyson said he was disappointed, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if more fish appeared with or without the museum’s cooperation.

Indeed, during a visit to the reflecting pool Thursday, at least two small gold fish were seen darting below the water lilies, suggesting they might already be making a comeback.

“I think everybody there loves them,” he said. “I don’t know why they’re not planning on replacing them, but that can be arranged.”

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