June 24, 2013 - 4:45am

World renowned botanist Dr. Roy L. Taylor, one of the founding board directors of Vancouver Island University’s Milner Gardens and Woodland Society, passed away in early May.

Taylor, who received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Vancouver Island University in 2009, was a highly respected, world class leader in the field of botany and botanical gardens, with an impressive record of achievement in teaching, research and public service.

“During his long and illustrious career, Dr. Taylor demonstrated a commitment to excellence and innovation that was an inspiration,” said VIU President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Ralph Nilson. “Roy was instrumental in guiding and supporting the development of VIU’s Milner Gardens and Woodland Society, and made a remarkable contribution to the field of botany regionally, nationally and internationally. He was a man of broad and varied interests who demonstrated a remarkable zest for life and learning.”

After retiring in 1999, Dr. Taylor was appointed to the Founding Board of VIU’s Milner Gardens and Woodland Society and served as Chair for five years.

“His advice and assistance with many aspects of the development of Milner Gardens has been invaluable to our staff and volunteers as well as the University’s administration,” said Geoff Ball, Executive Director of Milner Gardens and Woodland Society. “He helped with everything from plant records to donor development, and served as a volunteer in many different roles. There have been very few areas where his guidance was not sought and followed.”

During Dr. Taylor’s leadership of the society, Milner Gardens grew from having a handful of volunteers to a group of more than 250 and welcoming over 20,000 visitors annually. Today, thanks in part to Dr. Taylor dedication, Milner Gardens and Woodland has a strong children’s program called Shoots with Roots, reaching 1,000 children and young people every year, an active community education program and several annual events for the public.

Dr. Taylor began his career as an elementary school teacher in a one-room school near Olds, Alberta, in 1950. After teaching briefly at a junior high school in Calgary, he returned to university to complete a degree in biology at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University in Montreal), and a PhD in botany at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1962.

After several years as a research scientist, Dr. Taylor moved to the university environment with various appointments as a lecturer, professor and adjunct professor. His commitment to the field of botany goes back to the summers of the late 1950s when he worked as a botanical survey assistant with Agriculture Canada. During that time, he was part of a team surveying and cataloging plants in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii). He co-authored the major floristic study, culminating in the two volume Flora of the Queen Charlotte Islands (1968).

Dr. Taylor was Chief of Agriculture Canada’s Taxonomy and Economic Botany Section prior to his moving to the University of British Columbia (UBC) to establish the botanical garden. He served as Director of UBC’s Botanical Garden from 1968 to 1985; Executive Director of Chicago Botanic Garden from 1985 to 1994 – one of the larger gardens in the world; and as Director of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, California, from 1994 to 1999, as well as serving as professor and chair of the graduate botany program for Claremont Graduate University.

“These and many other public gardens in Canada and the United States benefited from Dr. Taylor’s knowledge and expertise, which he has shared widely,” added Ball. “In Canada, he provided advice and assistance to botanical gardens across the country from Memorial University to Royal Roads University on Vancouver Island.”

Dr. Taylor was a founding member of the Canadian Botanical Association and served as vice-president and president. He also served as a member of the National Research Council of Canada Advisory Committee on Biology.

During his career, Dr. Taylor published over 150 scientific and technical articles, reviews and books. As editor or editorial board member of several scientific journals, including the Canadian Journal of Botany, Pacific Horticulture, he has had a strong influence on botanical research.

His first PhD student at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Nancy Turner, is well known as one of the world’s finest ethnobotanists, and she has continued Dr. Taylor’s commitment to the native flora and to BC’s First Nations. In 2011, VIU and UBC both awarded her honorary Doctor of Science degrees. Other outstanding students included Steve Buttrick, Director of Research and Planning US Nature Conservancy, Portland, Oregon; Gerald Straley (deceased), Curator of Collections and Research Scientist, UBC Botanical Garden and Plant Research Centre; and Geraldine Allen, Professor of Botany, University of Victoria.

Dr. Taylor received many awards and special recognitions during his lifetime including an Honorary Doctor of Science from UBC in 1997, plus many national and international honors including the American Association of Botanical Gardens & Arboreta, Award of Merit and Honorary Life Membership; the Canadian Botanical Association Mary E Elliott Service Award; the Chicago Horticultural Society Medal; and Honorary Member of the British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects. In 2006, Dr. Taylor was inducted into the American Association of Museums Centennial Honor Roll recognizing 100 of the most important contributors to the Association since it was formed.

Dr. Taylor was also appointed a founding director of Botanic Garden Conservation International, based in London, England. In his retirement, Dr. Taylor remained active not only with Milner Gardens, but also with the Elizabeth Carey Miller Botanic Garden Board (Seattle, Washington) and the Bloedel Reserve (Bainbridge Island, Washington) as a Director and President of the Board.
He was a contributor to the present Flora North America and the Flora of the San Juan Basin of the Four Corners (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico) (in press), but unable to complete publication of the Flora of the Ilgachuz Mountains in central British Columbia.

Dr. Taylor is survived by his wife Janet. The garden the couple built at their Lantzville home is yet another example of his love and appreciation of plants and concern for native flora. A private celebration of Dr. Taylor’s spirit and life was held recently in his garden.


Janina Stajic, Manager, Communications and Public Engagement, Vancouver Island University P: 250.740.6288 E: Twitter: @VIUNews

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