Today I had the privilege of attending a memorial to celebrate the life of Dr.Rex Kenner, curator of the Cowan Vertebrate Museum (now housed in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum), who passed away earlier this year on January 23. It was held inside the peaceful sanctuary of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver.
I’ve always considered Rex one of my foremost mentors. When I was doing my undergrad in biology at UBC, he was one of the few scientists I met who really seemed like a “real” biologist. So many times you meet people who major in biology, but they are only concerned with biology on the small scale – genes, metabolic processes and the like. Even myself, who majored in genetics.
Rex was the kind of scientist who cared about the big picture – the ecology, the biodiversity and the nature of the species he studied. Every time I came to the museum to volunteer or dropped by his office to say hello, he’d have an interest tidbit to share about a specimen he was working on or a project he was involved with.
Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered today that Rex’s undergrad and Ph.D work was in the realm of physical chemistry! More surprises followed, as I learned about his work with the Taiwanese community, his contributions to the many nature groups throughout the Vancouver area, his monthly rounds of bug sampling and bird watching, and the origin of his collection of brightly hued sweaters.
Many speakers rose today to share their memories. Each one emphasized Rex’s generosity, his contributions to the community, and his passion for the natural world. I was gratified to see representatives from the Cowan Vertebrate Museum come up on stage to acknowledge and remember his work and his impact on students, staff and researchers.
For myself, Rex taught me an appreciation for biodiversity and a passion for science outreach. I truly believe that an institute like the Beaty Biodiversity Museum contributes more to our understanding of life and our place on this earth than any of the myriad of minor “breakthroughs” we hear about in the news on a daily basis. And within these institutions, it’s people like Rex who will inspire people to love science and nature. I continue to strive to match his example, though I doubt I am half as selfless as he was!
In closing, a few words from the celebration today:
Rex was green before green was cool; didn’t drive a car, didn’t own a home, didn’t need a lot of stuff. He stepped lightly on the earth. We are all better for having known him.
And the parting words:
So long, and thanks for all the fish!