|BOTANICAL ELECTRONIC NEWS|
|No. 514 March 9, firstname.lastname@example.org||Victoria, B.C.|
A great bryologist, social weaver, and friend passed away in late 2016. Ben Tan...I remember him well.
I first met Ben in July, 1978, a few days after I arrived from New Zealand after completing my MSc in Christchurch. My young family was waiting for me in Ontario and I had stopped over in Vancouver to find a place to live and check out the UBC Botany Department. On one of my first walks through the convoluted Biology building I bumped into David Suzuki, had a brief talk with him pointing out that The Nature of Things was the most popular show in New Zealand when I was there. Walking away, impressed with my visit so far, I turned a corner heading to my new office, when I saw a tall smile walk towards me...it was Ben with hand out, welcoming me to the department. We went to his office, had a brief chat, and off I went to the airport, flying east to catch up to the family. Little did I know at the time what an influence he would be on my career.
We bought a car in Waterloo and drove back to Vancouver in August, found a great place to live on campus, and I started my PhD studies. Once again, soon after settling in, there was Ben, or Benito if you chose, at my office door offering a cup of tea. We soon became close friends. I found out from him about how to best wade through various requirements, including comprehensive exams. We also chatted about his work (A moss flora of Selkirk and Purcell Mountain Ranges, Southeastern British Columbia; the dissertation available on line at: https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/831/items/1.0095396) and his personal life.
He was from the Philippines which, in 1978, was under martial law, ruled with an iron fist by the Marcos regime. Ben had been allowed to leave and finish his studies at UBC but he was fiercely set against the dictator. However, this was not something Ben made public since, if 'certain people' found out, his family would be in danger back home. After I had been at UBC a few months, while sitting at his desk enjoying some jasmine tea, he asked me to bend over and look under the desk top. When I did, I saw many 'underground' anti-Marcos newspaper clippings and posters...hidden from public view and away from prying eyes (some other Filipino students could not be trusted, he told me at the time, so best keep political opinions hidden). Ben was always smiling...but the smile he showed then was not, let's say, pleasant.
Although I had collected many bryophytes in New Zealand, I was still a novice at identifying them in 1978. But there was Ben, from that point until he graduated a few years later, encouraging and showing me many of the bryophyte processing 'tricks' I know today. Most important was the sectioning of moss leaves. Observation of the cross-sections of leaves (and stems) is a critical part of positive identification of many species, especially my tiny dryland species where mid-rib characters, thickness of leaves, types of lamellae, etc. can distinguish genera let alone species. Ben showed me the finger tip/fingernail - razor blade technique where one puts a plant on the slide and carefully lowers the blade while looking through a dissecting scope. Many people use styrofoam, glass slides, etc. to keep the plant still, but as long as the razor is sharp, this method works best. He learned this method from Wilf Schofield our supervisor and, like a good mentor, Ben passed it on to me. Ben also supported other pursuits such as taking art classes and attending talks outside of botany.
All that was almost 40 years ago. Since then, Ben became one of the most respected bryologists globally, as was seen on various Facebook posts following his passing. He was called Doc Benny by many young bryologists who, of course, loved his mentorship.
The following is from Jef Mancura who wrote on Facebook...I couldn't have summarized it better: "Doc Benny always looked and talked in such a very low-key, modest way that it took me a year and two expeditions and six mountains with him before I fully realized he obtained his bachelor's degree at Far Eastern University in Manila, finished his master's program at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, acquired his PhD at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, worked at the Farlow Herbarium at Harvard University among many other renowned international herbaria, sat in the Nomenclatural Committee on Bryology in the Berlin 1987, St. Louis 1999, and Vienna 2005 International Botanical Congresses, and became a long-time botany professor at the National University of Singapore. Despite all these, he remained such a humble, nice, fatherly figure with a very contagious laughter you could regard him as the Coach Anzai of Oriental botany". So Ben, many happy moss-covered trails my friend...you will be missed.
Alaska has lost one of its most valuable treasures. Face it. We wouldn't be here without her. There is likely not one botanical/gardening organization in Anchorage that doesn't have her name and leadership all over it. Verna and her husband Frank founded this organization, the Alaska Native Plant Society in 1982. She served as its first president from 1982-88. In 1997 she founded the Alaska Chapter, North American Rock Garden Society and also served as its first president. She was a vital fixture in the Wildflower Garden Club and the Alaska Master Gardeners Association. Verna participated directly in the local community in other ways as well - by helping to care for and maintain the gardens at the Alaska Botanical Garden, Campbell Creek Science Center and she volunteered as Alaska Native Plant Society's Chief Weed Warrior.
Anchorage garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels perhaps best summarized her reputation and contribution to knowledge about Alaska's native plants and wildflowers in these words: "In the wildflower world around the country, everybody knows Verna Pratt," and "if you want a book on wildflowers in Alaska, this (the first field guide) is the one you get, period."
After arriving in Anchorage in 1966 Verna's interest in gardening and learning about plants native to Alaska blossomed. Verna became a master gardener and a respected amateur botanist. She wrote and published several field guides to Alaska wildflowers, a berry identification guide and a children's book. Verna and Frank enjoyed traveling throughout the state, with Frank photographing flowers for the books they published together. She taught numerous classes and led hikes through mountains and fields, inspiring generations of Alaskans to look more closely at the beauty around them and appreciate even the smallest of wildflowers.
Verna has been recognized nationally and internationally for her expertise and contributions, winning numerous awards. . In 1991, and again in 1993, she received the Helen S. Hull Literary Award from the National Council of State Garden Clubs for "literary production of horticultural interest" and in 1999 she received the Meritorious Service Award for "producing books to help people learn."
In 2000 she was honored locally as a Woman of Achievement by the Anchorage YWCA and in 2002 was elected to the (national) board of directors, North American Rock Garden Society. Pratt also is a recipient of the Edgar T. Wherry Award given by the North American Rock Garden Society (date unknown) for "outstanding contribution in the dissemination of botanical and/or horticultural information about native North American plants." In 2009 Pratt and her husband were the first persons awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anchorage Chapter of the Alaska Master Gardeners Association. On that occasion, it was humorously pointed out that they were being recognized: "For your ability to teach and teach and teach and run up mountains with people following you." In 2014 she was inducted into the Alaska Women's Hall of Fame.
Despite all these achievements, she always found time for family and friends. Whether babysitting grandchildren, cooking meals for guests in her home or inviting family to join her in wildflower field trips, Verna always demonstrated her most valuable achievements were the personal connections with loved ones. Our tribute to her must be in picking up those many threads she wove and continuing on. Volunteer!
References: http://alaskawomenshalloffame.org/alumnae/name/verna-pratt/ https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2017/01/09/wildflower-wizard-verna-pratt-dies-in-anchorage/
Where: Cathedral Lakes, BC
When: Tuesday July 18th to Friday July 21st
Mark your calendars! Botany BC 2017 is taking place in Cathedral Provincial Park. This will be an "all inclusive" affair at the Cathedral Lakes Lodge starting the evening of Tuesday July 18, 2017 and ending the morning of Friday July 21, 2017.
The Botany BC 2017 program and registration have both been posted to the following website: http://eastons.ca/botanybc/
For the first time, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden will highlight the life and career of "botanical maverick" Marcus E. Jones in its newest exhibition opening March 2017. Geologist, mining engineer, educator, and prolific writer, Marcus E. Jones (1852-1934) was one of the most prominent botanists of the American West. Active during the late 19th century and into the early parts of the 20th century, Jones traveled extensively throughout the western United States and Mexico, collecting thousands of plants while photographing and recording detailed notes of the regions he traveled in. e archives and plant specimens of Marcus E. Jones are housed at RSABG and are a treasure trove of historical and botanical information.
[Editorial Note: For a lighter look at Marcus E. Jones' personality see http://bomi.ou.edu/ben/ben182.html
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BEN is archived at http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/ben/