The University Record, January 17, 2000

Obituaries

Freeman Devold Miller

Freeman Devold Miller, professor emeritus of astronomy, died Jan. 10 at age 91.

Miller retired as a captain from the U.S. Navy after 25 years, including service during World War II.

Miller joined the U-M in 1946 as an associate professor and was promoted to professor in 1955. He also held a number of administrative posts, including serving as associate dean in the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies in 1958–66, with responsibility for the Graduate Fellowship and Faculty Research Grant Program. He also served as acting chair of the Department of Astronomy in 1960–62 and assistant to the dean in LS&A in 1958–59.

When he retired in 1977, the Regents said: “The Curtis telescope of the department was constructed under the direct supervision of Prof. Miller, and he was in charge of the commissioning and operation of the telescope after its completion in 1948. His assistance was invaluable in the relocation of the Curtis telescope to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and in establishing there the existing Michigan programs of observation.”

“Freeman took a special interest in all his students, helping them achieve their goals in both education and in life,” said family members. “He will be dearly missed by both family and friends.”

Miller is survived by his wife of 66 years, Marie.

Memorial contributions in his name may be made to the Department of Astronomy.

From the family and News and Information Services


Hilda Kurtz

Hilda Kurtz, longtime lab technician and instructor in the Department of Epidemiology, died Jan. 8 at age 88.

Kurtz worked for more than 30 years at the School of Public Health, and was a research assistant for Jonas Salk when he perfected the technique for the Salk vaccine at the U-M. When Salk made his final visit here in 1995, he made a point of acknowledging her importance to his work.

Memorial contributions may be made to the School of Public Health Enrichment Fund. A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for April 22.

From the School of Public Health


Warren H. (‘Herb’) Wagner

Wagner
Professor Warren H. Wagner Jr. (known affectionately to all as “Herb”) died Jan. 8 at age 80. He was on the faculty for 40 years when he retired in 1991, and is probably the best-known botanist ever to work at the University.

Professor emeritus of biology and a world authority on the evolution and systematics of ferns, “Wagner was widely regarded as the founder of modern day systematics for all groups of plants and animals, and was the first to argue that phylogenetic reconstruction could be made explicit and rational,” said Julian P. Adams, professor and chair of the Department of Biology. “He then proceeded to construct procedures by which this could be accomplished. Today, the phrase ‘Wagner [phylogenetic] tree’ is part of the lingua franca of systematic biologists around the world. Herb’s contributions to the plant systematics and evolution,” Adams said, “have had a profound impact over the years.

“He was passionate about his research,” Adams added, “and maintained an active research laboratory—in which he could be found on all seven days of the week—until a week or two before his death.

“Herb conveyed an infectious enthusiasm for this field which he conveyed to many graduate students and co-workers over the years.”

Wagner was born in 1920 in Washington, D.C., and completed an A.B. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1942. After Navy service in the Pacific during World War II, Wagner completed his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley; spent one year at Harvard as a postdoc and an instructor; and came to the U-M as assistant professor of botany in 1951.

His primary research focus was the systematics, hybridization, and evolutionary history of ferns and fernlike plants, but his interests went far beyond ferns, to include (among many other things) oaks and other difficult groups of flowering plants, butterflies and minerals.

His energy was boundless and his enthusiasm famously contagious, which made him one of the most successful teachers of both undergraduates and graduate students in the University. After retirement he continued to participate in the teaching of courses in plant systematics in both biology and natural resources; indeed, he taught more in retirement than many younger colleagues ever do.

He chaired or co-chaired 45 doctoral committees and served as a member of more than 240 graduate committees, certainly a record in biology if not at the University. He served a term as director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in 1966–71, but administration was never his strong suit. He had more fun stirring things up and getting people excited than smoothing over rough places and finding consensus solutions to little problems that did not really matter in the “big picture,” one of his favorite phrases.

In the 1950s and ’60s, working in collaboration with his wife, Florence S. Wagner, he published a series of elegant studies showing that ferns hybridize freely and that hybridization is a major source of new species in plants. That idea is now widely accepted, but 45 years ago it contradicted a dogma that had been imported into botany uncritically from zoology. The Wagners’ beautifully documented research helped botanists realize that the constraints of plants’ habits, habitats and reproductive styles made a different species concept appropriate for them.

Wagner’s attempts to infer the ancestors of the Hawaiian fern genus Diellia, and his desire to teach undergraduates how to think about evolutionary history, led him to propose a method of deducing phylogeny that was radical at the time, and with characteristic missionary zeal he went around the country and the world exhorting botanists to abandon their traditionally sloppy approach to the inference of phylogeny and start using methods that are explicit and testable.

Wagner “had a very inquiring mind and was always coming up with questions,” noted Larry D. Nooden, professor of botany. “He worked collaboratively to find the answers, thinking broadly and addressing the issues enthusiastically. His interactions with individuals outside his field goes back quite far.

“He was a different thinker,” Nooden adds. “When one was expected to be highly focused, Herb reached out of the ivory tower. He embraced the creative process and searched for ways to contribute to academe and society at large.”

David Shappirio, professor emeritus of biological sciences, had known Wagner since 1944, meeting him in Washington, D.C., when Wagner was on leave from the Navy.

“Both of us were interested in insects and were introduced by a mutual scientific mentor, who was a curator at the U.S. National Museum,” Shappirio said. “Herb’s missions had taken him into newly-reoccupied islands of the southwest Pacific. When opportunity presented itself, for example in the Admiralty Islands, and after it had become safe to leave the landing areas, Herb had the opportunity to collect specimens of butterflies and plants, some of which were new to science.

“His energy, research and teaching skills were legendary, from his first appearance on the Michigan botany faculty through his last course, given just last fall.”

Michael J. Wynne, professor of botany and curator, Herbarium, also noted that Wagner continued teaching long past his retirement and cited collaborative research Wagner conducted with his wife. “He and his wife Florence were working on the fern flora of the Hawaiian Islands and also on a monograph of the fern genus Botrychium. Their collaborative research demonstrated the significant role that hybridization played in the evolution of fern species, and this was especially evident in their major paper in the last volume of the Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium.

“Herb Wagner,” Wynne added, “thrived on being in the classroom, but he also loved being in the field hunting for some remote population of plant species or an unusual form of fern. He was a major advocate for the study and appreciation of the role of plants in nature and the cause of conservation here in Michigan and well beyond.”

Edward G. Voss, curator emeritus, Herbarium, and professor emeritus of botany, said it was “a marvelous experience to be associated with so dynamic, energetic and enthusiastic a botanist. He was forceful in his support of botany in the broadest sense and in stressing the importance of plant research to the well-being of society. He was an unexcelled lecturer, not just to overflowing classes, but also to countless groups of citizens, clubs and conservation organizations. He attracted innumerable graduate students, who, with their students, went on to become the major cadre of scholars on ferns and related plants in North America.

“He was,” Voss added, “both a naturalist and a researcher of international stature, who nevertheless kept us all entertained while instructing, chiding, encouraging and leading us onward.”

Gerald Smith, professor of zoology and of geology and minerals, echoed his colleagues in noting that Wagner “was a naturalist with many interests and talents. In addition to being one of the world’s authorities on ferns, he was an avid collector of rocks and minerals. He was one of Michigan’s leading butterfly experts, with important scientific collections and published papers about geographic variations in Michigan butterflies. For many decades, he was our most positive and enthusiastic source of guidance to students.”

Ellen Elliott Weatherbee, head of the adult education program at Matthaei, said, “Not only was he the mentor and magnet for the academic community, he also touched thousands of adult education students over the years. I had my own start in botany while sitting in his ‘Spring Flora’ class in the early 1970s. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I heard him lecture to the students from all social and educational backgrounds. I then knew that I wanted to go into botany for my life work.

“His methods included colorful examples of making herbarium specimens. To make the point that even the toughest and largest specimens could be made to behave, he proudly showed a specimen of a flattened beer can, properly mounted on herbarium paper.

“His teaching methods and knowledge,” Weatherbee added, “have inspired not only his graduate students and fellow academic comrades, but also reached out to thousands of other people. I and my many students will miss him and his theatrical, academically correct, fun-filled lectures and field trips.”

Wagner’s success and influence were widely recognized during his life. His many honors included election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985 and the Asa Gray Award from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists in 1990, and he served as president of seven professional societies. He also was honored by the University with the Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award and the AMOCO Foundation Good Teaching Award.

He was in wide demand as a speaker to groups of professional botanists and amateurs, and after the talk he was likely to sit down at a piano and entertain the astonished guests with lively honky-tonk playing.

He is survived by his wife, Florence; their children, Margaret and Warren, both of Ann Arbor; and two grandsons.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

From William R. Anderson, professor of botany, on behalf of the Department of Biology and the family, and from News and Information Services