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Rhode Island Natural History Survey » Memories of Les Mehrhoff
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Exec's Blog &Invasives &Natural History &News &Plants dgregg on 03 Jan 2011 01:49 pm

Memories of Les Mehrhoff

With the unexpected death, on December 22, of Les Mehrhoff, the natural history family lost one of its greatest, most visionary members. Les–botanist, ecologist, teacher, founder and leader and leader of IPANE (Invasive Plant Atlas of New England), and all-round invasive plant guru–suffered a massive heart attack at his home in Connecticut. Les was working hard right to the end on one of the greatest priorities in conservation, one that he did much to bring to all our attention–mitigating the environmental damage caused by invasive plants. Les had been a long time adviser and supporter of RINHS and was a frequent companion to RINHS staff, board, and members in the field, at meetings and conferences, and in all manner of regular communication. Les presented at three of RINHS’s annual conferences–1999, 2003, and 2007–each time addressing a different aspect of invasive plants. Whomever was the nominal keynote speaker at the CIPWG (Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group) annual meeting, everyone looked forward to Les’s appearances just as much.

Events such as Les’s unexpected passing, like the sudden loss of member and mycologist Doug Greene this spring, remind us how much we naturalists owe to each other for our interests and passions and how each such loss highlights a responsibility to share and promulgate those interests and passions so they do not pass with us, when it is eventually our time.

There will be a celebration of Les’s life organized in Storrs, CT, later in the winter and RINHS will pass word when we know more. You may also contact the RINHS office to be kept up to date. Les’s family has asked that we remember him by performing an act of kindness for the preservation of our environment.

Websites remembering Les include:
Published obituary
UConn Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Walking the Berkshires [blog]

2 Responses to “Memories of Les Mehrhoff”

  1. on 05 Jan 2011 at 5:37 pm 1.dgregg said …

    From RINHS member Norm Dudziak:
    I have met Les, and enjoyed his presentations, though I did not have the honor of knowing him. Even so, I was greatly saddened by the notice of his passing that Kira sent out to RINHS promptly, and knew many people would be hurting. Here is a list server email I received from Cynthia Boettner today: “Dear Friends and Colleagues,

    It is with great sorrow that I send this message to you. Our good colleague, comrade and invasive plant teacher, Les Mehrhoff, passed away of a massive heart attack on December 22.

    His colleagues at the University of Connecticut sent this message on December 23: “This morning we learned the tragic news that one of our dearest friends and colleagues, Les Mehrhoff, died last night of a massive heart attack. He was home when the attack happened. His daughter Jessie started CPR immediately and the paramedics took over when they arrived. He was taken to the closest hospital where he passed away. The doctors told his family that nothing could have been done to save him. Les will be cremated and his remains spread at his favorite spot in the spring along with those of his dogs. His wife Olga will organize a memorial service sometime after the holidays.” A service is being planned for mid-February [for information, contact RINHS].

    Les was instrumental in conceiving the idea for the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England (IPANE) and has been its Director from the start, making it one of the most useful information sources on the topic that we have in the region. His enthusiasm about it was infectious and he was asked to speak at numerous conferences across the nation. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Les and seeing him in action will remember how knowledgeable he was, not only about invasive plants, but botany in general. As I got to know him, I became more aware about the breadth of his knowledge, but now, in reading others’ tributes about him (see below), I see how far-reaching it was. Even still, he did not place himself above others and was patient toward those of us who were still learning. He always strove to impart this knowledge in an engaging and fun way.

    Dave Wagner, Les’ colleague at UCONN has known him for many years and tells of the many contributions that Les has made to the world of conservation and also wonderfully captures Les’ personality:

    “Les was an integral element and personality in the New England Botanical Club, Torrey Botanical Society, the Connecticut Botanical Society, and Rhode Island Natural History Survey. He was an active member and quintessential catalyst in the early history of the state’s chapter of The Nature Conservancy, the Center for Conservation and Biodiversity, The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History, the Connecticut State BioBlitz. He was central in IPANE, from its inception on through. The Connecticut Butterfly Atlas was his brainchild. Perhaps most importantly he was instrumental in efforts to draft and pass legislation in Connecticut for the protection of rare and endangered species and controlling invasive exotics. [Beyond Connecticut,] his efforts and reach were national in scope. We have lost a giant… It saddens me most when death takes someone with so much life. He livened up every meeting, every conversation. Enthusiasm and passion and ideas bubbled out of him. Sometimes you could see and feel it coming, and you just had to smile as he gained momentum and watched it all pour forth….We greatly appreciated his sense of humor—not uncommonly he laughed out loud while still plotting a story, anecdote, or practical joke…always fun to be around. He will be sorely missed and never replaced.”

    Les also founded the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group in 1997. Donna Ellis who coordinates the group says that “his passion and knowledge of invasive plants is the reason that CIPWG exists today.” In Massachusetts as well, he became a trusted coach to diverse stakeholders of the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group as he helped us evaluate plants for invasiveness.

    Also, please see the additional message at the end of this letter as you may wish to contribute memories to a book of memories being compiled for the Les’ family.

    I will miss him tremendously and feel honored to have known him and worked closely with him. Please keep Les’ wife Olga and daughter Jessie in your thoughts as they truly must be crushed by this loss.

    Sincerely,
    Cynthia

    P.S. I just received this additional message from Steve Manning of Invasive Plant Control, Inc. who also worked closely with Les:

    We are collecting “memories” of Les from his many friends and colleagues. For those that are interested, please take the time to write an account of a time or meaningful event you had with Les. You may want to include photos or scans with your memory. It can be as short as a sentence or as long as you wish. Once compiled we will be formatting and printing a book in Les’s memory so that whomever wishes can read and fully understand the impact Les had on so many lives. You can type this, or write/scan and send as a PDF. Please personalize as much as you wish and send to Steven Manning …stevemanning % mindspring.com [replace the spaces and the % with the "at" symbol] Olga and Jesse [Les's wife and daughter] think this would be a wonderful tribute to remember Les by and offer them insight into the impact Les had on so many of the people they only heard about.”

  2. on 18 Jan 2011 at 12:33 pm 2.Marcia Pena said …

    I received this as email this morning:

    Radio remembrance of Les Mehrhoff

    Connecticut Public Radio
    A piece about Les is scheduled to appear on WNPR at 7:33am and 5:44pm on Wednesday, 19 January.1 You should be able to pick up the live stream at http://www.cpbn.org/listen-live, and it will also be published to the web at http://www.yourpublicmedia.org.2

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