Roderic Park, 1932-2013

A plant biologist and “Renaissance man” who played a key role in implementing major changes at the University of California, Berkeley has died

October 3, 2013

Roderic Park was born on 7 January 1932 and studied biochemistry at Harvard University (1953) followed by a PhD in plant biochemistry and geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (1958) before joining UC Berkeley in 1960 for most of the rest of his career.

He went on to serve as professor of botany and plant biology, departmental chair, provost and dean of the College of Letters and Science (1972-80) and then executive vice-chancellor (1980-90), effectively the second in command within the administration. Even at the time of his death he was still closely involved in the university as chair of the trustees of the Jepson Herbarium.

Although he moved to the University of Colorado, Boulder to become interim chancellor from 1994 to 1997, Professor Park returned to the University of California to help establish its 10th campus at Merced. He raised the money and commissioned Aris Demetrios to create a 40-foot high sculpture called Beginnings, consisting of two graceful, soaring arcs, which has become a symbol of the campus. He would become acting chancellor at Merced for a year in 2006-07. He went on to distil all that he had learned from his many years in top jobs into a book, It’s Only the Janitor: A Handbook for New Academic Administrators, published in 2010.

Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of UC Berkeley from 2004 to 2013, praised Professor Park for “great intellectual capacity and exceptional political instincts” and said that, during the recent tightening of state funding, his guidance had “played a critical role in enabling us not only to survive the cuts but, in the end, to maintain our preeminence”.

An acclaimed research scientist, Professor Park was the first to identify quantasomes (particles found in the membranes of plant cells where photosynthesis takes place), published 84 research papers and was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Yet he also had a range of other talents and enthusiasms that earned him the title of “Renaissance man”. A keen yachtsman, he competed in 13 California-to-Hawaii races. He gained his pilot’s licence and built a two-seater Kitfox aircraft for his own use. He played the banjo in a bluegrass band. And he even set up a vineyard with his wife Cathy on an overgrown sheep ranch.

Professor Park died on 6 September and is survived by his wife, three children, a stepson and eight grandchildren.

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