Dr. John O. Sawyer Jr.
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Dr. John O. Sawyer, Jr. passed away peacefully at his home on August 19, 2012 at age 72. Born on November 22, 1939 in Chico, California, John married the love of his life, Roberta (Jane) Cole, over thirty-six years ago in the California Federation of Women's Club Grove in the Avenue of the Giants. Over the years, he adopted her family as his own and was there for them in good times and in bad. He was preceded in death by his parents, John (Orvel) and Barbara Sawyer and he is survived by his wife Jane, best friend and colleague James P. Smith, Jr., sister Dorothy Erickson, two sons Kevin and Jeffrey and their mother Judy Sawyer, and many beloved relatives, friends, colleagues, and former students. John joined the faculty at Humboldt State University in 1966, where he became Professor of Botany and a nationally recognized authority on plant ecology, conifers, and the vegetation and flora of California, especially of the Klamath Region. He was particularly proud of his cadre of graduate students, many of whom now occupy professorships, and responsible positions in state and federal agencies and the conservation movement around the country. John's friendship and rigorous, theory-driven exploration of ecological ideas with his students and colleagues created personal and professional bonds that will last beyond a lifetime. His countless hours of field research, extending well beyond his formal retirement, resulted in over forty scientific publications and three books - Trees and Shrubs of California, Northwest California: A Natural History, and A Manual of California Vegetation, which was adopted as the state standard for vegetation classification. Among his many honors, John was recognized by Humboldt State University as its 1997 Scholar of the Year, by the California Botanical Society in dedicating the 2008 volume of its journal to him, and he was the recipient of the J. C. Pritzlaff Conservation Award of the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden. He was active in several organizations, including the Save the Redwoods League and the Ecological Society of America, where he served as a technical advisor. John was President of the California Native Plant Society, and a founding member and first President of the North Coast Chapter of CNPS. While plant ecology was John's primary academic interest, he was also an avid hiker, photographer, traveler, an admirer of the art of Turner, Bierstadt, and Miro, and gained much enjoyment listening to Bach, Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla, Glass, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Italian opera. Memorial contributions may be made to any of the organizations mentioned above or to a memorial bench that will be dedicated to him at the Lanphere Dunes (Friends of the Dunes, P. O. Box 186, Arcata 95518) or to the John O. Sawyer, Jr. Endowment to support field studies in botany (Advancement Foundation, Gift Processing Center, Humboldt State University, 1 Harpst Street, Arcata 95521-8299). A picnic for friends and family in celebration of John's life and accomplishments will be held at Patrick's Point State Park on September 22nd (e-mail jos2 at humboldt .edu for details). Please sign the guestbook at www.times-standard.com, click on obits.


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Published in Times-Standard from Sep. 1 to Sep. 4, 2012.
Memories & Condolences
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17 entries
October 29, 2012
I just learned of John's passing. He was my mentor, advisor and friend. I learned so much from John, in class, in the field and on the many jogs we grad students could take between classes. I am grateful that I knew him, my heart goes out to Jane
mignonne Bivin
October 21, 2012
Red Mountain trip
John was a great friend of mine and life teacher, leading the way to understanding the many-layered wide world we live in by example. I will miss his positive, brilliant, warm and down to earth perspective on life and his friendship. We have shared many wonderful camping and botanizing trips over the years in the wild places of California and they were always wonderful full immersion trips for botany, biogeography and good conversation. I'll see you further along the trail John.
Casey Stewman
September 28, 2012
John was a wonderful mentor. He was kind and patient but he insisted on careful thinking. He was willing to try to sort out puzzles that defied sorting. I still try to emulate his patient and thoughtful approach to ecology and to people. Like so many others I am proud to have worked with John and to have been a friend.
Scott White
September 19, 2012
Marble Mountain Wilderness from Kings Castle
Dr. John Sawyer was an inspiration to many of us who had the privilege of walking in the woods and mountains with him, learning not only plant names but a respect for the plants and the places where plants live. I have said many times that my professors were the true field going botanists who helped reveal the importance and richness of the Klamath Mountains, where I live and work. Thank you John for inspiring me and so many other grateful students and friends. We have been so fortunate to learn so much from a great teacher and friend.
Michael Hentz
September 17, 2012
FAREWELL To The Curator of Conifers
John Sawyer lives in Our Collective Memories because he demonstrated intense
passion for learning and caring through his mentoring of students.
I was engaged in finding new locations to study both Klamath Mountains & Southern Sierran
foxtail pines: so, to me John was
always the Intrepid Curator of Conifers. Since all great teachers truly continue
teaching in the afterlife, we dedicate this special poem to John who was so beautiful in
Life and continues even in Death:


Ernest G. Moll, in his collection of poems about Crater Lake, wrote of the whitebark pine:
On this torn ridge he rooted, proud and free,
Battling the wild earth-forces for control;
Life granted not his dream of beauty, so he,
Majestically dying, reached his goal.
Ron Mastrogiuseppe
September 13, 2012
Dear Jane and family,
I am sorry to hear of John's passing and grateful to have the opportunity to meet him. John did not hesitate to support our effort to develop science based workshops for wilderness areas. I am grateful and humbled by his and your generousity. He gave us inspiration to share with others unconditionally.
Lorrie Bundy
September 11, 2012
1978
September 10, 2012
The mountains and the conifers and the streams of northern California (State of Jefferson) are better understood and loved because of John. Thank you John for teaching and sharing with us all.
Ernie Wasson
September 6, 2012
John influenced many people deeply, as his former students and colleagues can testify. In my case, I first met John after I had written to Humboldt State in 1971, inquiring about the possibility of an independent field study in the redwoods. Even though I was only an undergraduate at the time and not even a student at Humboldt State, he agreed not only to supervise the project but did a great deal more—taking an entire day for an introductory field trip from Humboldt Redwoods to the Oregon border, loaning equipment and reading material, giving instruction on local tree ID, dinner invitations at the family home, and many other generous offers. He was by far the most influential and personable academic advisor I ever had, and the experience was a turning point in my choice of a career path. I felt fortunate to be able to stay in touch and to work with him again on another redwoods project 35 years later. He will be greatly missed.
Craig Lorimer
September 5, 2012
I also came to Humboldt State in 1966 and was fortunate to take a number of botany classes from John during the following years. He challenged my thinking and taught me to see the landscape as the most recent frame in a moving picture stretching back through time. One of the great things about John as a professor was his enthusiasm for getting out in the field. His courses were the only ones where I needed my backpack and sleeping bag. I particularly remember a snowy, winter hike into Little Duck Lake in the Russian Peak Wilderness.

John had the gift of teaching is a way that his students remembered the lesson and were inspired to learn more on their own. Thanks, John. Happy trails.
Brent Howatt
September 5, 2012
Dear Jane and family- Sorry to hear about John. He was influential to me from the first class I took frorm him at HSU (Ecology 1977) and I fondly recall a great backpacking trip with John and Dale Thornburgh in the Russian Wilderness. His will be missed greatly.
Mark Andre
September 5, 2012
I was a sophmore when I took my first class with Dr. Sawyer in 1972. He made a deep impression on all of his students. My husband, Jim Clark and I both had classes with him. We send our condolences to his family and to Dr. J.P. Smith.
Donna Clark
September 4, 2012
John was my graduate advisor back in the 1980s at Humboldt State. As a mentor, he challenged and expanded my understanding of plant ecology as no one has. And he was not one to part with his students - each of the last 25 years we have met for a hike/backpack somewhere in the western U.S, most often in the eastern Sierra our favorite rendezvous spot, and each hike was a journey of conversation – ranging from ecology, geology, history, music and philosophy.

John was a brilliant, creative and radiant force in California botany. He had a rare ability to comprehend complex ecological processes, and a unique way of articulating this understanding to others with an enthusiasm that was famously contagious. John dedicated himself to learning the flora of California, particularly the Klamath Region, as he was of the firm belief that one doesn't understand patterns in vegetation and ecological systems without fully immersing into the flora.

Through his mentoring, activism, and numerous natural history books, John has influenced so many of us as botanists, ecologists and conservationists.

I will miss him dearly, not just for the great wisdom of his teachings, but for the gift of his friendship.
Jim Andre
September 4, 2012
I appreciated knowing John; he always took a genuine interest in what I was doing. He was a warm and wonderful man with great curiousity about life. I only wish I had had the opportunity to get to know him better.
Bill Zielinski
September 4, 2012
Dear Jane and family--It is sad to hear of John's death, but please know that he leaves quite a legacy. He was a beloved and talented teacher and scientist. I always think of John when I hike in the Russian wilderness and try to identify some of the many shrubs and trees that he wrote about in his seminal research. I also think of John as a gentle sweet person--and I remember also when the two of you were married. Wasn't it just yesterday?

Thank you for the beautiful obituary and for sharing John with so many of us.

Edward "Buzz" Webb
Edward Webb
September 2, 2012
So sorry to hear. His energy was boundless, be it the desert, the alpine tundra or the top of Russian Peak.

When I was a botany student at HSU, I counted him a friend as well as an instructor. His devotion was as strong as his intellect. I learned so much!

I truly hope something wild (a mountain peak or a plant) can be named after him.
Dwain Goforth
September 1, 2012
John has left an amazing legacy, and his work will continue to inspire those of us who love nature. Jane, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Love, Geraldine
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