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Charles Gunn

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Charles Gunn Obituary
Charles R.

"Bob" Gunn

Asheville - Charles R. "Bob" Gunn, a resident of Givens Estates in Asheville, North Carolina, died September 26, 2015 at the age of 88.

Bob, who was a botanist with a lifelong specialty in seed identification, was born in Columbus, Ohio, graduated from Iowa State College and was hired by a seed company in Louisville, Kentucky, and met his future wife, Betty. Later, the couple and their two small children moved back to Iowa where he worked his way through the renamed Iowa State University and received a Ph.D.

In 1965, he was hired by the United States Department of Agriculture to be the director of what is now known as the U.S. National Seed Herbarium. From 1965 through his retirement in 1992, he led the growth of the herbarium, which is considered the world's largest taxonomic seed collections with more than 100,000 samples, many of which he collected.

While director, he gained national publicity after spotting jewelry made with poisonous seeds -- Abrus precatorius - for sale at a major department store chain, which led to recalls and changes in federal policies. And, he and a coworker published the first paper documenting the use of a computer for automated seed identification. He also identified seeds for forensic analysis, and even contributed to the design of a postage stamp.

Bob published about 150 papers and books, including a multi-volume series of seeds and fruits of 375 legume genera. In this study, he discovered new genus of African legume. He was honored by his colleagues, who named the genus Bobgunnia.

His hobby also involved seeds: collecting and writing about tropical seeds and fruits carried by ocean currents to temperate beaches. He co-wrote a book on the topic.

In the early 1990s, he and his wife retired from their home in Maryland, to Brevard, N.C., and ten years ago moved to Givens Estates. He enjoyed the Sunday-evening bridge group.

Bob was active in his children's lives and was proud of his children and grandchildren. He especially enjoyed family visits in recent years.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Betty, of Givens Estates; daughter Laura Leff (Adam) of Hudson, Ohio; son Steve (Jean Harris) of Norfolk, Va., and four grandchildren: Kathryn Gunn of Evanston, Ill.; Alexander Gunn of Carrboro, N.C.; and Benjamin and Amelia Leff, both of Hudson; and cat, Catie Jane.

No memorial service is planned.

Memorials may be made to a Western Carolina cat rescue organization, CatMan2, P.O. Box 2344, Cullowhee, NC 28723.

Groce Funeral Home at Lake Julian is assisting the family and a memorial guest register is available online at


Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on Sept. 28, 2015
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