── Irwin M. Brodo ──
My friend and colleague, Pak Yau Wong, was a professional lichenologist for almost his entire adult life. To appreciate the significance of his career, I have to tell you a little about lichens. These interesting organisms are basically fungi that live in a close partnership with algae in the broadest sense. Lichens are especially abundant and conspicuous in Canada where there are close to 3000 different species; over 1000 are in Ontario and 540 are just in the Ottawa region. You see them in large grey patches on roadside trees, covering boulders near your cottage, and painting park trees a bright orange. In northern parts of Canada, shrubby lichens form the dominant ground cover like a greenish grey blanket. In southern Ontario, the area where Pak Yau did most of his studies, the lichens are fast disappearing due to air pollution and habitat destruction and are therefore important indicators of the health of the environment.
Pak Yau began his interest in lichens around 1970 under the direction of a world-famous Austrian lichenologist at Queens University, Roland Beschel, where Pak Yau was pursuing a Master’s Degree. Beschel recognized Pak Yau’s talents and enthusiasm in lichenology and strongly recommended him for a job at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Thus, in 1971, I hired him to assist me during a summer of field work in Haida Gwaii, off the British Columbia coast. It involved camping in a small tent, cooking our own meals, clambering over huge logs and climbing mountains. Shopping together for food to take camping, I quickly learned that soy sauce had to be on the grocery list. The summer of field work led to a permanent position as a Research Assistant in Lichenology beginning in 1972. Pak Yau and I worked closely as a team for over 20 years and then, although he was no longer my assistant after 1992, as lab-mates for almost another 20.
In his lichenology position at the Museum, Pak Yau quickly learned to reliably identify the local lichens and then lichens from all over Canada, even though his knowledge of the languages used in much of the current lichen literature at that time, such as French and German, was limited, and he was red-green colour-blind, a major challenge for anyone interested in taxonomy. He soon was doing 75% of the identifications requested by colleagues in other departments and universities, and other correspondents from Canada and elsewhere. The duplicates from this identification work greatly augmented the national lichen collection, and Pak Yau was co-author of several important papers based on these collaborations from outside the Museum.
Pak Yau was a skilled technician and was a tremendous help to me, whether expertly preparing microtome sections of lichens or performing chemical analyses that are necessary for lichen identification. At the end of the 1980s, Pak Yau began a major research project of his own: the lichens of Southern Ontario. This was completed in 1992 with a book-length publication that is still valuable today. His research resulted in the discovery of several lichens that were not known anywhere else in North America, as well as 10 that were new for Canada and a whopping 63 new for the province of Ontario, quite a contribution!
In 1992, Pak Yau was transferred to the newly formed Collections Division and no longer was my assistant. As Collection Manager for lichens, Pak Yau managed loans, exchanges and acquisitions, ensured the growing collection had adequate space and supplies, kept the names of the lichens up-to-date based on new research from around the world, and entered prodigious amounts of collection data into the Museum’s Digitized Collection Data system, all while carrying out independent identification and education projects. Pak Yau then became familiar with arctic species and worked on contract with Paul Budkewitsch of the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing in a collaboration that continued for several years. Pak Yau spread his knowledge of lichens in China, where he made a series of trips to teach lichenology, from about 2006 until his retirement.
Many people at the Museum knew Pak Yau as a quiet and reserved person, so they felt honoured when, on infrequent occasions, he was comfortable sharing his opinions or personal news. On one memorable afternoon, he surprised everyone when he presented a delightful, engaging seminar on one of his early teaching trips to China.
Members of the Botany Division during the 1980s will always remember Pak Yau teaching and leading Tai Chi for staff and volunteers in the Division’s former location on Laperrière Avenue. It involved a lot of table and chair moving in our conference/lunch room, but it was worth it. Although no such classes took place after the herbarium (that is, the plant collection) had moved to Gatineau, his co-workers learned to tread quietly and calmly when one arrived early in the herbarium, because Pak Yau’s workday regimen began, like clockwork, with Tai Chi among the lichen cabinets.
Besides his nine scientific publications, including a book, Pak Yau’s legacy to the Canadian Museum of Nature are thousands of well-identified and curated specimens from southern Ontario and throughout Canada. He collected almost 5000 himself. He documented the lichens of Southern Ontario at a time when the lichens were rapidly disappearing due to air pollution and habitat destruction, and he carefully revised the determinations of many genera and species groups in the national lichen collection, making the collection much more valuable as a scientific resource. I have much to thank him for as do lichenologists throughout the world. We will all miss his skill, dedication, knowledge, and his wonderful smile.
–Irwin M. Brodo, 7 May 2022
2022年05月19日首版 Created on May 19, 2022
2022年05月19日改版 Last updated on May 19, 2022