Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Royce L. Oliver: 1929-1997.
Royce Landell Oliver was born June 15, 1929, in Winters, Texas and died of pancreatic cancer on February 22, 1997, after a brief illness at his home in College Station, Texas. We present excerpts from two remembrances.

Walter H. Lewis, Washington University -- One remembers the early years with a colleague and friend most clearly, and sometimes towards the end as well, though too often not much in the middle, as each goes in different directions professionally and geographically. So it was with Royce Oliver and me: I remember vividly the early years of our acquaintance, meager in the middle and usually restricted to brief encounters at the annual systematics symposium held at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and then toward the end a prolonged and meaningful visit to enjoy an October day wandering around Washington University's campus.

We met in the September heat of East Texas in 1960 not too long after Royce had finished driving a tank in Korea and I had started teaching at Stephen F. Austin State (now) University. Royce had completed his undergraduate degree at Arlington State College (now The University of Texas at Arlington). He enrolled in a master's program, and besides taking a full course load, he helped me build a local herbarium, assisted in my undergraduate labs and in numerous field trips to the Big Thicket of eastern Texas, nearby Louisiana, western and southern Texas, and Mexico looking for Rubiaceae, particularly Hedyotis, though searching for what became his special interest, Sisyrinchium, as well as plants in general which we suspected needed chromosomal data. Royce completed his master's in 1962, with a thesis on Sisyrinchium cytotaxonomy; he went on to teach high school biology and I went to England for my postdoctoral.

Our paths soon crossed again. I invited Royce to join me in 1964 at Washington University and the Missouri Botanical Garden as Research Associate (WU) and Assistant (MBG herbarium). What a help he was setting up the new lab in cytology and palynology at WU. He was particularly helpful at the Garden. Support staff in 1964 were almost nonexistent, but by 1965 when the new Director, Dr. David Gates, was appointed, additional help became available. Time could then be spent in research, collecting trips throughout eastern North America, and numerous field excursions to Mexico and particularly Panama to revitalize collections for the Flora of Panama project. Royce played an important role in all these activities, most often working quietly and patiently for the good of the project rather than for his own edification. He was a modest man clearly dedicated to the task at hand as long as it involved plants.

Early in 1979 a permanent position opened in Botany at the Smithsonian Institution and he left for Washington, D.C., to assist Drs. Raymond Fosberg and Marie Helene Sachet. He remained there until he retired. The Smithsonian inherited a fine plant cytologist, an experienced field researcher, and an herbarium curator par excellence.

Joan W. Nowicke, Smithsonian Institution -- It was when I returned to graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, that I first met Royce Oliver. He was working as a research assistant for Walter Lewis, my Ph.D. advisor.

I think that the reason that Royce and I got along so well and for so long was that we thought alike. The articles in the Washington Post newspaper that I thought were outrageous had the same effect on him. In 20 years of going out to dinner together about once a month, we gossiped and held the same opinions of many of our mutual acquaintances.

I was looking forward to seeing Royce at the 1996 Annual Systematics Symposium in St. Louis. He told me that the doctors could not reach a diagnosis about the cause of his pain and severe weight loss. When the doctors did make a diagnosis and Royce realized that he did not have long to live, he asked me to visit him in the spring. He wanted to show me how spectacular the Texas wild flowers could be. Once a Texan, always a Texan. But, unfortunately, it was a date he could not keep.

Royce Oliver was in close contact with Dr. Sy Sohmer, Director of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) at Ft. Worth, where he provided a girl to establish the Royce Oliver Belize Project. An endowment fund has been created at BRIT, and those who wish to contribute to further his dream of completing a Flora of Belize are invited to do so. Send contributions to BRIT, 509 Pecan Street, Ft. Worth, TX 76102-4060.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.