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In Memoriam: Richard (Dick) Pharis, March 13, 1927 – July 3, 2018

September 1, 2018

Click here for a pdf version of this In Memoriam.

Following nearly a month in Foothills hospital, Richard (Dick) Pharis passed quietly away July 3rd.

Dick was a founding member of the Alberta Wilderness Association, serving two terms as President. In later years, Dick remained active in AWA in projects including the annual maintenance of the historic Big Horn equestrian Trail west of Nordegg. He supported approximately 50 conservation/environmental groups in Canada, the US, Australia and NewZealand. Early involvement with the Civil Liberties Association chapter of Calgary was an indication of his humanitarianism.

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana his father’s career moves meant the family lived in many parts of the U.S. As a young boy, he spent several years in the small town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky near where his father was stationed during WW2. It was there his love of fishing began, further reinforced in Miami, Florida and Washington State. In Washington, he learned to love the mountains and camping through Boy Scouts and eventually earned his Eagle Scout. For the rest of his life Dick lived by the rule “BePrepared.“

After graduating from Highline High School in Burien, Washington in 1954, Dick went to the University of Washington in 1958, completing his undergraduate degree there in Forestry. His graduate work at Duke University,in Durham, North Carolina was completed in 1961, and resulted in a Masters and a PhD in Plant Physiology.

Returning to the west coast, Dick worked as a research scientist for the U.S. Forest Service in Roseburg, Oregon, then accepted a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where he had the pleasure of working with such renowned scientists as Linus Pauling. Concurrently, he served 11 years as an officer in the US Military Reserves in both the Coast Guard and Army.

From CalTech, Dick came to Calgary where he was hired in 1965 as a Professor of Botany at the University of Calgary. The Rocky Mountains definitely influenced this choice. Thus began a 53-year tenure at the University of Calgary and a 53-year association with Alberta‘s Eastern Slopes.

In 1967 he met and married Vivian Marilynn Baker, a former student in the Botany section of the Biology Department. They shared a love of wilderness and took many mountaineering trips on foot and horseback in Canada, the U.S., and New Zealand. In Australia, remote outback adventures were often two to three-week camel safaris. The two became a dynamic team in defence of wilderness and land conservation.

They built a house on an acreage north of Cochrane in the 1970s, and they kept pack and  saddle horses for traveling Alberta’s eastern slopes. From Willmore Wilderness Park in the north to the Whaleback in the south, their often lengthy trips involved friends, students, and visiting scientists.

Dick’s lifelong passion was fishing ,which he reveled in wherever he found a lake, stream or seaside bay. Hunting was another abiding passion enjoyed by both Dick and Vivian. It could have been for birds on the prairies with their Labrador dogs, or, more often, for big game in Alberta’s foothills.  As a prolific and accomplished photographer, Dick carried heavy camera equipment wherever he traveled in the world’s wild places, documenting landscapes, wildlife and native plants in situ. He also enjoyed  purchasing local landscape paintings which often ended up being donated to the Alberta Wilderness Association for fundraising events.

In 1970, he relinquished his American citizenship in order to become a fully participating  Canadian citizen.

His research, into the plant hormone gibberellin in the broader field of hormone physiology, was internationally recognized and, as a result attracted researchers from around the world to his lab. Dick hosted many international visiting scientists and post-doctoral fellows and was published extensively, with over 400 peer reviewed papers in prestigious journals. His work continues to be quoted. Certain research findings resulted in patents being granted to Dick.

In Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea, he worked on diverse projects in forestry, horticulture, and agronomy. In Australia, he worked through the Waite Institute in Adelaide, and in Canberra, the Australia National University and Australia‘s CSIRO. In New Zealand, he collaborated with the Forest Research Institute in Rotorua and with fellow scientists in Christchurch’s Universities of Canterbury and Lincoln. During more recent years he has worked on a number of agronomic editorships with the Atomic Energy Commission. Scattered in his wake are a constellation of friends and colleagues.

He was recognized with Stacy and Killam Fellowships and in 1988 was invited to join the Royal Society of Canada because of his outstanding contributions to Canadian science.

Tributes from graduate students he mentored, now in many parts of the world, poured in during his final weeks. These students now carry on his high standards of scientific endeavor. Many others were welcomed into Dick and Vivian’s personal lives, often sharing wilderness adventures and learning first hand, their conservation values.

Helping a friend plant the first vinifera vineyard in Oregon was a catalyst that led to his being one of the original members of the Grand Cru Wine Society in Calgary. When the opportunity arose in New Zealand, he became an owner and director of Torlesse Wines, a boutique winery located in the Waipara Valley north of Christchurch. For the past 25 years, Dick and Vivian have lived on their vineyard five months of each year, producing ten varieties of grapes for Torlesse.

Tributes from around the world indicate Dick influenced and shaped many lives, professionally and personally. In the words of a colleague “beneath his brusque, shy personality was a heart of true gold and a man of absolute honesty”. He will be remembered for his passionate dedication to scientific excellence, and high standards of professionalism.The impact of his passions will endure.

Dick is survived by his wife Vivian, his sister Lynne, as well as six brothers-in-law, seven sisters-in-law and eleven nieces and nephews.

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