Robert C. Stebbins (1915-2013)

Stebbins bookmarkAs the Museum Archivist at the MVZ, I have come across Robert Stebbins in many forms. Early on in the CLIR grant, we accessioned his personal papers. This was my introduction to Bob and I was surprised by the breadth of his work and his talent as an artist so much so that we used one of his drawings in our first outreach materials. And so it was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Bob Stebbins. Robert C. Stebbins, Professor Emeritus of Zoology and Curator Emeritus in Herpetology, at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, at the University of California at Berkeley, died September 23, 2013, at the age of 98. MVZ Director Emeritus, David Wake, wrote the following memoriam of his longtime colleague and friend:

Robert C. Stebbins, Professor Emeritus of’ Zoology and Curator Emeritus in Herpetology, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of’ California at Berkeley, died peacefully at his home in Eugene, OR, on September 23, 2013, at the age of’98 years and 6 months. Stebbins was the preeminent scholar studying amphibians and reptiles in North America, and was actively professionally until his last year of life. From his first amphibian book in 1951 to his last book on Amphibians and Reptiles of California (2012, Univ. California Press) he was a productive and influential force. He was also a superb artist, both of scientific illustrations and of portraits and landscapes. Throughout his career Bob Stebbins was a strong force in conservation biology and was very influential in the establishment of parks and reserves, particularly in the Mojave Desert. He was an educator who contributed importantly to elementary and middle school science instruction, stressing involvement, and was an effective and influential university professor. It was his strong belief that the principal problem facing humans on this planet was over population and all that flows from it. Above all, Bob Stebbins was a wonderful human being, a true naturalist, and a compassionate and involved citizen. We celebrate the life of a very special friend and colleague.

Robert C. Stebbins, taken at his home studio by Charles Brown, 2004.

Robert C. Stebbins, taken at his home studio by Charles Brown, 2004.

In our first year of working on the CLIR grant, we have had several undergraduates, volunteers, and interns work on the Robert C. Stebbins collection. They have collectively helped to organize, describe, catalog, and preserve his life’s work and each individual has come to list him as one of his or her favorite researchers. Perhaps it’s his charming smile or his uncanny ability to illustrate his scientific observations, or his dedication to conservation, all of which point to a man who dedicated his life to his passions.

Many biographies have been written of Robert Stebbins, perhaps most notably, Historical Perspectives: Robert Cyril Stebbins published in Copeia 2006 (3) which was written by two MVZ graduates and collaborators of Bob’s. We especially like Matthew Bettelheim’s writings on Stebbins, posted on the (Bio) Accumulation blog. And finally IB Major Amy Moulthrop’s post on Robert Stebbins. These posts are good examples of how Stebbins was able to impress upon a wide range of individuals, from seasoned biologists to an undergraduate research apprentice. Amy, who had never heard of Stebbins, developed a strong connection by working solely with his field notes. His art and research continue to educate and inspire students and this is his legacy.

Nancy Rink, an intern from the San Jose State School of Library and Information Sciences has been working on the finding aid for the Robert C. Stebbins collection. It is expected to be completed by the end of October.

We hope you enjoy this unedited clip from an interview with Stebbins conducted by Karen Klitz and filmed by Alison Chubb in 2005.


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4 Responses to Robert C. Stebbins (1915-2013)

  1. Jesse says:

    Wonderful tribute!

  2. Dr,. Dirt says:

    I spent a lot of time in the “field” with Bob through the years, and I always learned something new from him every time.

    Dr. Dirt, alias Dale Sanders, UCB 1972

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