[Syrphidae] Dick Vockeroth's passing

Jeff Skevington jhskevington at gmail.com
Sat Nov 17 01:52:55 GMT 2012

Richard (Dick) Vockeroth, 2 May 1928 to 16 November 2012

     The Diptera community suffered a great loss today. Dick Vockeroth
passed away on the morning of November 16th 2012, at the age of 84.
Almost everyone who studies flies knew Dick, and most of us have some
hilarious Vockeroth stories that will undoubtedly continue on for
several generations. His breadth of knowledge was unsurpassed and many
of us owe him considerably as a mentor. He always amazed us by seeming
to know something about virtually every fly species put in front of
him. Of course, putting a fly in front of Dick was just the excuse to
open the floodgates. For those who could concentrate for long enough,
his stories always had a point. They could continue for a long time,
but they always wound back to where they started, completing another
lesson for those willing to listen. If only we had a way to save all
of his immense knowledge. Fortunately, he was always willing to share.
He published 120 papers on 27 families of flies over his career. His
unpublished manuscripts and keys also fill many boxes in our
collection. Copies of many of these are spread around the world with
Dick’s colleagues and will ultimately be incorporated and published as
part of new studies. In addition to giving freely of his scientific
knowledge, Dick was a true philanthropist. He seemed to donate
virtually every penny that he had to anyone who stopped at his door or
called. He was incredibly frugal with his own purchases and we all
benefitted/endured from his purchases of cheap (or free) produce and
bread that often had seen better days. His immune system seemed to
enjoy these nutritional challenges although ours were perhaps not
always up to it. We recall a few years ago when Dick had the first
cold that he could remember having since he was a child, as well as
the first headache in his life a year or two later. Diabetes was his
primary health challenge and it was a significant one in his later
life. It was likely a contributing factor to the Alzheimer'sthat
eroded his mind over the last three years.
The following is excerpted from: Cumming, J.M., Sinclair, B.J.,
Brooks, S.E., O’Hara, J.E. and Skevington, J.H. 2012. The history of
dipterology at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, with
special reference to the Manual of Nearctic Diptera. The Canadian
Entomologist 143: 539-577. This paper is the introduction to a three
volume Festschrift in The Canadian Entomologist honouring Dick and the
other coordinators of the Manual of Nearctic Diptera. Picking through
these papers, you will find some classic stories about Dick and expand
your impression of the impact that he played in the Diptera community
over the last 60 plus years.
     Dick was born on May 2nd 1928 in Broderick, Saskatchewan. He
received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Saskatchewan in
Saskatoon in 1948 and 1949, respectively, and his D.Phil. on the
genera of Scathophagidae from Oxford University in 1954. He officially
joined the Canadian National Collection of Insects (CNC) Diptera Unit
in 1949. Dick retired in 1991, but contributed broadly to Diptera
activities at the CNC as an Honorary Research Associate until 2009. He
became a world expert on several families, particularly Mycetophilidae
s.l., Dolichopodidae, Syrphidae, Scathophagidae, and Muscidae. He was
an avid collector and contributed over 220,000 pinned Diptera to the
CNC. Dick authored or co-authored 120 scientific publications,
including 12 chapters in the Manual of Nearctic Diptera. He has
published 173 new Diptera taxa (1 family group name, 42 genus-group
names, and 130 species-group names). Dick was awarded the C.P.
Alexander Award in 1997 by the North American Dipterists’ Society.
This lifetime award, which can only be held by a single dipterist at a
time, publicly acknowledges the most important and influential member
of the North American Dipterists’ Society. The Award reads, ‘‘John
Richard Vockeroth is recognized as our most knowledgeable dipterist,
and for his critical and unique contributions in expanding our
knowledge of flies, especially flower flies, educating and encouraging
a cadre of world leaders for Systematic Dipterology’’. Sadly, as of
today, this award is now available to be given to someone else.
     Evidence of the respect of Dick’s scientific achievements can be
seen in the ninety-one patronyms that have been attributed to him by
the entomological community
This list will no doubt continue to grow as his collections live on
and support new research on the flies that Dick was so passionate
about. We have all missed his antics and contributions in the lab
since he left in 2009. Let’s hope that we can all leave even a
fraction of the lasting legacy and legends that Dick has left behind.
     For those in our area, the funeral will be Wednesday 21 November
at the Hulse, Playfair & McGarry Chapel at 315 McLeod Street in
Ottawa. More details will be provided in the Ottawa Citizen tomorrow.
     If you wish to make a donation in Dick’s name, he would no doubt
be honoured if it went to the Canacoll Foundation (www.canacoll.org),
which supports improvements to the CNC by visiting specialists.
Cheques made out to the Canacoll Foundation can be sent to the
treasurer, Andrew Bennett, at the K.W. Neatby Building, 960 Carling
Avenue, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0C6, Canada. Tax receipts will be issued.

Jeff Skevington, Research Scientist
Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
960 Carling Avenue, K.W. Neatby Building
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0C6, Canada
Phone: 613-759-1647
FAX: 613-759-1927
E-mail: jhskevington at gmail.com

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