Thanks Surrey

As many of you will have heard by now, one of most experienced and well-known scientists, Dr Surrey Jacobs, died last week.

I knew Surrey reasonably well before I moved up to Sydney in 1998. He and I shared a passion for aquatic plants - although he prefered the flowering kind. I should also put on the public record that he taught me the difference between 'that' and 'which', something that has allowed me to irritate others ever since.

Surrey was often quite gruff, always pedantic, and quite shy. He was fond of reminding me when some 'new' idea was actually a recycling of something tried 5, 10, 15 or more years ago. Someone had to!

I also remember sitting with him in his last interview for the Research Scientist classification, thinking that his track record was amazing and he showed no signs of slowing down. I had to remind him a couple of times to 'sell himself' - he didn't like doing that. In the end he was rewarded with a promotion to Senior Principal Research Scientist, the highest level available in the NSW Public Service.

The apparent disorder in Surrey's office is legendary, but he always assured me he could find anything important. (I'm sure though that didn't include the latest piece of administrative paperwork - he would have scoffed at that. Although, to be fair, he would oblige when necessary. I think he even appreciated that I had a job to do and was happy it was me and not him.)

I will remember Surrey very fondly.

Karen Wilson and Brett Summerell wrote about Surrey for the Botanic Gardens Trust staff newsletter and I've included this below:

Dr Surrey Jacobs: Outstanding Australian Botanist

Dr Surrey Jacobs has died, at the untimely age of 63. Last Friday was officially Surrey’s last day of duty but, as many know, he has been on sick leave for about a year. This did not stop him coming to work one morning a week until recently, and he has also been working hard at home to wrap up his numerous research projects or to pass on materials to his collaborators to finish.

Surrey did his PhD at the University of Sydney on ‘Ecological studies on the genera Triodia and Plectrachne in Australia’, after doing a systematics Honours project on these grasses. He joined the Gardens’ staff as a systematic botanist in 1971 and has worked here ever since, being promoted to the highest level in the Research Scientist scale — Senior Principal Research Scientist — last year.

His passing leaves a great hole in our expertise in the Herbarium: waterplants, weeds, grasses, and chenopods in particular. His broad interests in ‘plant matters’ led to him being involved in many wetlands and catchment advisory committees in NSW and elsewhere. Apart from his botanical expertise, many people in the Herbarium will miss having him here to offer sage and practical advice on a wide range of matters to them individually.

A week ago, we presented Surrey with a book of reminiscences and messages of appreciation, with individual contributions from over 50 colleagues and ‘group’ pages covering many others at the Gardens and elsewhere. Botanical illustrator Lesley Elkan did a beautiful title page with a collage of botanical paintings and drawings that she has done for Surrey over the years. Besides the individual contributions, we included pages of extra photos, some of them showing his renowned prowess with chook-breeding, jam-making and room-cluttering. It’s a marvellous tribute from many people to a very productive 40+ year career. Surrey’s scientific legacy will continue to grow as he and his collaborators around the world have a wide range of manuscripts at various stages of preparation/publication.

We will be publishing a special issue of our systematics journal Telopea in Surrey’s honour next year. It will include scientific papers by about 30 of his colleagues — a fitting acknowledgement of an Australian botanist who has made an outstanding contribution to knowledge of the systematics, phylogeny and ecology of the world’s waterplants, grasses and chenopods.

By Karen Wilson (Special Botanist) and Brett Summerell (Director Science and Public Programs)

Image: One of Surrey's many beautiful images of aquatic plants. This one is a native Waterlily (Nymphaea megasperma) from Parry's Lagoon, taken in May 2008, and lent to me by Surrey for a talk I gave on Monet's Water Lily paintings.


Ma and Pa said…
Thanks Tim. Surrey would have been astounded that so many people considered him an 'outstanding Australian botanist' and such a significant part of their lives. As you have said, he was always too shy to 'sell himself'.