|The Botanical Society has been notified of the recent death of Corresponding Member|
Frans A. Stafleu
of the Insitute of Systematic Botany, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
The Botanical Society has been also been notified of the recent death of
His body was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car, face peering pensively out of the windshield across a section or two of Creosote bushes. He died of a heart attack about 20 miles northeast of Alpine, Texas along the highway to Fort Stockton (the place of his birth), the motor of his four wheel drive Bronco still running (how appropriate!).
The Department of Public Safety in Alpine was alerted by some anonymous truck driver on the morning of June 16 that he had observed a car beyond the road shoulder that had apparently been driven through a barbed wire fence, coming to rest about 100 yards off the tarmac: "maybe you should check it out." And they did, not knowing that the newly purchased vehicle was purring away the passing of a legendary Botanist.
As soon as the state troopers peered into the window of the car they were startled, one of them remarking, "Be damn, why it's the doc," very casual like Southwesterners are prone to be facing death.
Nearly everyone in Texas west of the Pecos River knew Barton as the doc. To them he was a legend. And that's what the byline on the front page of the Alpine Avalanche read, BOTANICAL LEGEND IN WEST TEXAS DIES AT 86. And The Big Bend Quarterly (vol. II, No. 4) headed their eulogy of the man with this masthead, "LIKE TAKING A WALK WITH THE CREATOR." Clearly the man was a revered figure, to them at least, those who still trod the open range in scuffed boots and rusty spurs, driving pickups and cursing the blue skies "cause it ain't gonna rain today, maybe never," looking at their new growth of gramma grasses (they were botanists too!) with hope and fear (not showing either in their faces, true Texans). Barton belonged to the ranchers. He was their systematist. From El Paso to the Pecos, Barton knew them all, who owned what spread, how many sections, what kind of plants dominated, and why; he even knew the history of their places better than they did, having outlived most of the original owners.
Interestingly, Barton spent much of his time after retiring from his Professorship at Sul Ross State University, Alpine, as a plant collector and "curator" of ranch herbaria. He set up numerous small collections in one or two herbarium cases at the ranch headquarters of the bigger spreads in the trans-Pecos so that the ranch owner, or his manager, or the owners children (now too remote from ranching to be concerned) might know what their land grew and where.
Dr. Warnock was always an enigma to me, mainly because he seemed such a simple cuss to sport a Ph.D. I was an acquaintance of his for fully fifty years and in our many one- on- one conversations, never managed to probe successfully into any of his views on things psychological. Sometimes he would dumbfound me, however, with a remark from out of nowhere, "Turner, do you believe that there are really homosexuals in this world?" And after some briefly expressed incredulousity on my part as to the question itself, he would let the topic drop, as if the question was merely the flicker of a moment. I mention this because, to me, he was one of the most intellectually naive professors to pass his shadow over my shoulder. Indeed, the mention of some of the more banal intellectual questions in our discussions, such as "the meaning of life? why we do what we do?" etc., would nearly always result in his retreat into some avuncular world unfamiliar to me: quoting homilies, or inventing these on the spot. Such conversations lived short lives.
But he did channel the course of my professional life. As a prelaw student at Sul Ross State College in 1947, age 22 and fresh out of the military, feeling my future, thinking I'd be a great lawyer, fighting the cases that counted, putting my learning on the line for the "...scorned, the rejected, the men hemmed in by the spears..." I was ever an idealist! So constituted in frame and bent, I enrolled in a freshman biology course at Sul Ross. Barton was the teacher.
Meeting Dr. Warnock (aged 36 at the time, fresh out of graduate school at The University of Texas, Austin, with a Ph.D. in plant ecology, his doctoral thesis entitled "A vegetational study of the Glass Mountains" [a sliver of elevated limestone about 30 miles east of Alpine, aligned in a north-south direction, beginning near Marathon and extending northwards into Pecos Co., where it soon peters out into flat lands dominated by Creosote and Black Brush]), changed my career, if not my life. How? He wooed me with words, smiles, and competition; noting that I excelled in his class with little effort and much enthusiasm, he began to ask me out on his collecting forays. Weird fellow, I thought, collecting plants in sets of four?" I asked. "For exchange," he replied. "What's that?" I replied, "I mean 'for exchange' ?" And so it would go mile after mile, picking up the beginnings of botany, the names of plants, where the grew, what they were related to, those kinds of beginnings...
And he talked about other aspects of life too, the trivial aspects, often foolishly stated, like "Your wife nearly always knows what's best," uttered with a sincere little laugh, and a mischievous look, as if joshing. But he wasn't; for him this was seemingly true; for me it was idle chatter.
Anyway, I loved those field trips, beautiful landscapes, botanical unknowns, populations of this or that species strewn along highways and mountain crests, some of them even undescribed, Barton would venture, often adamantly so, "Now I know this plant is new, but every time I send it off to Dr. Tharp [his doctoral mentor at The University of Texas] it always comes back as so-and-so , but I know damn well it's not."
Lots of botany, laughter, teasing, and competition. I still remember one of his challenges: faced with an ascent of about 2000 feet up to the top of Altuda Peak, an isolated protrusion about 15 miles east of Alpine overgrown with oaks and miscellaneous shrubbery, Barton hollered out suddenly, "Beat you to the top Turner, you find your own way." And he took off in a trot up a broad gully at the base of the peak. I snickered, thinking, "Like hell, you will," and took off up my own little gully, knowing that my young legs would get there first. But they didn't. When I got to the top, there was the doc, smiling like a pig eating swill, remarking casually, " What took you so long, Turner? Been waiting here ten minutes or so." That kind of manner and mien in the man appealed to me: fully contagious, like teachers ought to be.
That kind of contagion and teaching careened many a Sul Ross student into graduate schools in botany departments across the country. To name but a few (those introduced to botany via Barton's tutelage), other than myself: A. Michael Powell, currently Professor at Sul Ross, having replaced Dr. Warnock upon the latter's retirement; John Averett, currently Professor of Biology and Chairman at Georgia Southern University; John Bacon, Professor of Biology at the University of Texas, Arlington; Tom Watson, independent researcher, now retired; not to mention the numerous Masters Degree students who became high school science teachers, wildlife researchers and yet other dedicated biological workers of this or that ilk.
While Dr. Warnock never published his doctoral thesis, noted in the above (a fine study for its day, the various plant communities beautifully documented with full page photographs, etc.), he did publish, a number of taxonomic papers, mostly having to do with new species from the trans-Pecos, often with co-authors, such as Dr. M. C. Johnston, who briefly occupied a faculty position at Sul Ross during his long and productive academic career. But such papers did not create his legendary status; rather, the latter was largely due to the publication of several books on the wildflowers of trans-Pecos, Texas. These include:
At the time of his death he had put together a fourth volume on the wildflowers of the trans-Pecos region, and this should be published in due course by some press other than Sul Ross. At least I was informed by Barton that such a text was ready to go to press.
All of the above wildflower books, except for the soon to be published text, were published in collaboration with Peter Koch, now deceased, who provided a large array of colored photographs for the books (several hundred or more to a text, six to a page, of varying quality, including everything from bryophytes to sunflowers).
Probably, Dr. Warnock would not have ventured into the wildflower publication business except for a bit of personal vanity and competitiveness (the "I'll show- them" syndrome). Barton, in the late 1960s, began to think of himself as the botanical guru of the trans-Pecos, which he was, in a sense, as noted in the above. At least, I think he thought that most taxonomists in the United States knew of his work in that area, might even be aware that he had personally collected over 26,000 numbers from this region and that they would surely back his proposal, submitted to the National Science Foundation, to produce a Flora of the trans-Pecos. Barton even gave a paper before the American Society of Plant Taxonomists in which he outlined his ambitious plans, beguiling the professional audience with 24 carat smiles, and charming them with cowboy quips and humbling homilies. I was in that audience and felt he did a wonderful job of salesmanship. He thought the same. But it wasn't to be. His trans-Pecos flora project was rejected by his peers, nearly all of whom had been in the audience. Why? Not because they thought he couldn't do it, but simply because they were all aware, as was Dr. Warnock, that there was to appear shortly A Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas by Correll and Johnston, this having been underwritten by the National Science Foundation over a ten year period or more.
Dr. Warnock never recovered from this rejection by his peers. He became bitter towards the taxonomic community, irrationally so, refusing to loan specimens of his holdings to yet other institutions and, upon occasion, even refusing professional visitors the courtesy of examining the SRSC herbarium sheets, in situ. I tried to explain to him that the tax payers might see little point in supporting the production of two floras of the same region, albeit overlapping. Alas, to no avail; he saw all of this as a personal vendetta. To my knowledge he never forgave the taxonomic establishment; thereafter he strode his own path, never again collecting plants in sets of four for exchange purposes; indeed he became disdainful of academic institutions in general, especially the bigger ones that thought they could call the plays, lay down the rules, pass judgment on the little fellows, something like that I think, drove him into his alienation from the larger systematic community.
But as Shakespeare put it, "Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous wears yet a precious jewel in its crown." Had not the doc suffered the ignominy of rejection he would surely have squandered years working on a mundane flora of the trans-Pecos that would have raised but few eyebrows. As it turned out, his competitive zeal and desire to show the academic elites that he didn't need their support, made possible his trans-Pecos, if not statewide, sainthood.
Dr. Warnock really has had appreciation aplenty. Numerous taxa from the trans-Pecos and elsewhere have been named in his honor, including an endemic Texas genus, Warnockia (Lamiaceae). In addition, a building on the Sul Ross campus bears his name, as does a state park facility along the Rio Grande in Presidio County, Texas; few botanists can claim such edificial honors.
It is ironic, that had the legendary botanist, Art Cronquist, died of a heart attack driving in the environs of New York city (where he resided), car motor still purring away, it is likely that the first official persons on the scene might peer through the window and comment, "Boy, that's some big Swede," as if he had little legendary status on Long Island, an area infinitely smaller than the trans-Pecos region where the doc received instant recognition from the first persons on the scene. So who is the bigger legend? In the international community, of course, it was Cronquist; but in the confines of the trans- Pecos, it was Warnock.
I would like to add that Cronquist is said to have had his heart attack while in a herbarium gazing down at a specimen of Mentzelia from his beloved state of Utah. Warnock had his heart attack in the field gazing across an expanse of Creosote (Larrea tridentata). How appropriate for both! And as to their legendary status? Each was an epic figure in their own milieu, as it should be.
The University of Texas at Austin
Reed C. Rollins, the Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany Emeritus and director of the Gray Herbarium from 1948 to 1978 at Harvard University died April 28. He was 86.
Born in Lyman, Wyoming, Rollins graduated with honors from the University of Wyoming, received his master's degree from Washington State University and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1941. A member of the Society of Fellows from 1937 to 1940, he joined Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1948. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and many professional societies.
Before coming to Harvard, Rollins served as associate professor of biology at Stanford University and as a geneticist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He worked on the Emergency Guayule Rubber Research Project for the U.S. Department of Agriculture during World War 11. His research covered many areas in taxonomy and genetics but the primary focus of his work was on the mustard family, Brassicaceae.
He leaves his wife Kathryn; a daughter, Linda White of Hingham; a son, Richard of Portland, Ore.; stepdaughters, Sydney Roby of Baltimore and Helen Roby of Toronto, Ontario; a brother, Dr. S.P. Rollins of Phoenix, Ariz.; a sister, Mrs. Alene Carter of Tulsa, Okla., and five grandchildren.
A memorial service was held at Harvard University May 22 in Appleton Chapel in the Memorial Church. Contributions may be made to the Reed C. Rollins Fund for Botanical Field Work in care of the Harvard University Herbaria.