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Don Ross Remembered

Don Ross, born in Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1914, died in Edmonton in March. An internationally-respected zoologist, he was dean of the University's Faculty of Science from 1964 to 1976 and was named professor emeritus in 1979.

Dr. Ross's fascination with marine biology began while he was an undergraduate student at Dalhousie University, where he earned a BA degree in biology in 1934, winning the governor-general's gold medal and the Avery Prize. After receiving an MA from Dalhousie, he was an 1851 Exhibition Science Research Scholar at Cambridge from 1937 to 1940.

He served as a research officer at the School of Agriculture in Cambridge and then as a lecturer at University College, London before coming to the U of A as head of the department of zoology in 1961.

Dr. Ross played a key role in the establishment of the Bamfield Research Station on Vancouver Island. His many honors included the Queen's Jubilee Medal in 1977 and the Fry Medal of the Canadian Society of Zoologists in 1980.

The following is the text of remarks made by Joel K. Elliott, '83 BSc, at the University Memorial Service held for Don Ross on March 29 in Convocation Hall.

I would first of all like to thank Mrs. Ross, Dr. Nursall, and Dr. Spencer for asking me to be part of this memorial service today, and giving me the opportunity to relate my experience as a student of Dr. Ross's.

I first met Dr. Ross about three years ago as an undergraduate student. Two other undergraduate students, Mike Hart and James Dalby, and I were starting work with Dr. Ross on sea anemone behavior at the Bamfield Marine Biology Station. I have to admit that at that time, before that summer had begun, I had my doubts about how exciting that summer was actually going to be — working for a retired university professor, working on, of all things, sea anemone behavior, which at that time I thought was kind of a dry and limited subject.

Dr. Ross drove us to Bamfield that year, and in the truck on the way he told us about his life, the places he had been to, the people he had met, the things he had done, his experiences here at the University. Then I realized that his life had actually been very exciting, and very rewarding — and that, really, there must be something to this anemone biology.

After we got to Bamfield, Dr. Ross showed us the animals, he showed us their behaviors, and he gave us directions as to what he wanted us to do that summer, the kind of questions he wanted asked and answered. We couldn't help but pick up his enthusiasm for his work and his determination to answer those questions that he had asked.

Once Dr. Ross had got us started that summer and taught us the primary skills to do the work, he left us on our own to experience and learn to do science in our own way. And during that time, he supported us in every way possible. We could tell that he felt very responsible for our well-being and also for our progress. In return for his faith in us, we tried our utmost to accomplish as much as we could, to live up to our perception of what his expectations were. At the end of the summer, like a good father to us, Dr. Ross came out and picked us up. He asked us what we had been doing, and we told him what we had accomplished, and he was very excited.

He asked me if I would like to be spokesman for the students and present our research from that summer at a symposium being held at Christmas time in Vancouver. Now, to us that was probably the best compliment we could ever have received. We couldn't have felt better about ourselves, just because of his recognition of our work.

Later that year when all of us went back to University and we started classes and we were busy doing that, he took it upon himself to take our research and write it up into a scientific paper. When he finished that paper, he named us undergraduates as principal authors. This was something I thought was just an unheard-of act of generosity. All he replied to our thank-yous was that "this will help you guys out in entering graduate school." And that it really has.

Dr Ross gave us, his students, his utmost support, his encouragement, and respect. He really asked for nothing in return, except that we try our best, and his philosophy was very effective in getting us interested in marine biology and going on and doing our own research at a later time.

Of the four of us who had been working with Dr. Ross over the past three years, three of us have gone on to graduate school, and one is planning on going on to graduate school. I have no doubt in my mind that it was Dr. Ross's influence — his positive influence on us as undergraduates — that gave us the confidence and the desire to continue on and do research at the graduate level.

And speaking for all of us: we will be forever grateful to Dr. Ross and his unequalled contribution to our careers.

I am very proud that I have had the opportunity to know Dr. Ross and to be one of his students. Memories of him will always be with me. Everytime I take that long, lonely trip to Bamfield, everytime I see the fascination on a student's face when a sea anemone detaches from the bottom of a tank and gets up and swims away from a starfish, and everytime I think about how I got into this game of marine biology in the first place, I will remember him. And I'll miss him.

Published Summer 1986.

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