Naturalist Weber honored for lifetime achievements

William A. Weber

William A. Weber

William A. Weber, who began his work as a biologist and naturalist 68 years ago and published authoritative works on Colorado flora, will be honored in a special event and an exhibition at Norlin Library at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The event honoring Weber’s life and work is scheduled for on Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 4:30 p.m. on the Norlin Library fifth floor.

His colleagues say Weber holds the unofficial title of CU-Boulder’s “oldest active professor with the longest tenure.”

Weber, 96, is a retired CU-Boulder professor of botany and curator emeritus of the CU Museum of Natural History. He began his career at the university in 1946 as a biology instructor. In 1962, he became a professor of natural history.

In 1962, Weber also became the curator of the fledgling herbarium collection of plant specimens at the CU Museum of Natural History. That collection now holds more than half a million specimens and was named The W.A. Weber Collection in 2012.

The celebratory event will feature Weber and other speakers, including:

  • James F. Williams, dean and director of University Libraries
  • Rebecca Hufft Kao, manager, conservation programs at Denver Botanic Gardens
  • Erin Tripp, assistant professor and curator of botany at the CU Museum of Natural History Herbarium
  • Pat Kociolek, director of the CU Museum of Natural History

The event is free and open to the public, and light refreshments will be served.

Additionally, University Libraries has selected Weber as “CU Legend” and is honoring him with an exhibit called “The Naturalist.” The exhibit is on display through 2015 on the second floor southwest of Norlin Library.

Weber grew up in New York City and became interested in botany at the age of 4, when he received the gift of a small microscope. Depression-era New York city provided an ideal setting for a young naturalist who frequented the city’s parks and natural history museums, joined walking clubs and even founded his own bird club.

He continued his education formally with a B.S. degree in botany from Iowa State University (1940) and M.A. (1942) and Ph.D. (1946) degrees in botany from Washington State University.

After moving his family to Boulder in 1946, Weber engaged actively in service to his community, profession, international scientific societies and on various expeditions.

In 1951, he entered the world of lichenology, which he calls the “most significant event in my life.” This continuing passion resulted in the 1998 publication of A Rocky Mountain Lichen Primer with former CU-Boulder Chancellor James Corbridge.

In 1957-58, Weber received a National Science Foundation Senior Post-Doctoral Fellowship to spend a year at the Riksmuseum in Stockholm conducting research in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

In 1964, he participated in an international expedition to the Galápagos Islands and, over a period of nine years, collected and published the first studies of their lichens and bryophytes. Subsequently, he did intensive work in Australia, New Guinea, Siberia, Scandinavia, the American Arctic and Nepal. His study of historical plant geography in these regions has led to his own hypotheses about plant origins and distribution.

William Weber

William Weber at home with The Linnaeus Apostles Global Science & Adventure, Volume Eight (The Encyclopaedia). Photo by Ronald C. Wittmann.

Weber was elected a member of the prestigious Linnean Society of London in 1984.

He is co-editor, with Ron Wittman, of the Colorado Flora Series, which has been in continuous publication since 1953, with the most recent publication in 2012 in two volumes: Colorado Flora: Eastern Slope and Colorado Flora: Western Slope.

This work remains the most authoritative contemporary reference to the flora of Colorado, and each volume fits easily into a backpack for research in the field.

Weber has remained dedicated to his students, emphasizing field studies. Many students he mentored went on to become leaders in their own fields.

This dedication was recently honored with the Wright Family Foundation William A. Weber Endowed Fund for Children’s Education in Natural Sciences, which will be administered by the CU Museum of Natural History to support children’s natural-science-education programs that foster exploration, appreciation and love of the natural environment in all its diversity.

Weber donated to the University Libraries Special Collections a 14-volume set on the disciples of Linnaeus, who traveled the world collecting and documenting flora and fauna. Weber also donated Special Collections with a sepia photograph of Alfred Russel Wallace, who co-published work on the theory of evolution with Charles Darwin.

The photograph is accompanied with a postcard written by Wallace to Theodore Dru Alison Cockerell, an entomologist and professor of systematic zoology at the University of Colorado from 1906-1934.

Cockerell, along with Junius Henderson, helped establish the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.Although retired, Weber, who still resides in Boulder, visits the campus frequently.

For more information about the event or exhibition, contact Mary Jane Campbell at maryjane.campbell@colorado.edu or (303) 492-7511.

Oct. 30, 2014

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