Robert James Mitchell
A husband, father, brother, friend, fisherman and scientist.
Bob Mitchell's Memorial Service -May 18, 2013
A short story about Bob Mitchell
presenting for one of the first times in the States at the North American
Forest Ecology Workshop (NAFEW). Someone with a strong southern accent asked
me the most interesting questions at the end. He introduced himself at
coffee break, and so began an informal exchange and conversation with Bob
Mitchell that continued off and on at NAFEW meetings or ESA meetings, over
many years. His presentations were always among my preferred, dense with
deep knowledge of southern pine ecosystems, their fire regime, the root
systems anchoring them in place; but with a twist. He was, as are fewer and
fewer ecologists, rooted in a place that he continued to study throughout
his career. He understood this place probably as few people can. At that
first NAFEW meeting as a postdoc, he threw me an idea: you should try this,
Alison.... And I did, and it developed into one of my underlying research
themes, spatial ecology.
Bob was like that: informal, generous, thoughtful, genuine. There was no
artifice, no agenda, just Bob, straight up, no ice. Despite his amazing
breadth and depth of ecological knowledge, there was never a trace of
arrogance to be found; in fact, he shirked any forum that hinted of
scientific elitism or disrespect. He was always ready to discuss, to go a
step further, to throw out ideas and challenges. When I invited him back to
our local NAFEW in Canada, he was happy to come and talk about pine
ecosystems once again. But we digressed into philosophy and ethics of
science, and he (and I) seemed somewhat discouraged by the decreasing lack
of connection of scientists to «place», and modeling as a substitute for
presence in the field. As he took a pause in serious treatment for his final
battle with cancer, he decided he could come to Quebec City as external for
one of my PhD students. Are you sure, I kept checking; he was sure. Even
more interesting conversations ensued, reaching further into philosophy. Bob
was ever optimistic and determined, still brimming with ideas while adding a
dimension to his vision that comes with this kind of battle. Cancer was
another scientific study; the hypothesis was life. Afterwards, he even sent
me the outline of a research proposal that he said he wouldn't use, saying I
could perhaps use it to contribute to my work; how many scientists wouId do
this? I am sorry we cannot continue our conversation, I will miss him. He
must still be there, among the longleaf pines.
Robert J. Mitchell, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Ichauway,
GA. 1955 - May 2013.
Professeure, Université Laval
EPITAPH by Merrit Malloy
When I die
Give what's left of me away
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
And give them
What you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something,
Look for me
In the people I've known
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on your eyes
And not on your mind.
You can love me most
Hands touch hands,
Bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
That need to be free.
Love doesn't die,
So, when all that's left of me
Give me away.