Department of Biological Sciences - Westoby Lab
Barbara Louise Rice, 1944-2009
Barbara Rice was an Honorary Associate of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. She was the backbone of the ecology group from 1975 to 2009. She contributed skill in plant identification, extensive experience with fieldwork and research, enthusiasm and organization. She was an elder sister and mentor to dozens of research students and postdocs.
Barb was born and raised on a farm in Dinuba, California. She was the third of four children born to Edwin Rice and to Eleanor (nee White). Dinuba lies in the irrigated San Joaquin valley below the tall peaks of the Sierra Nevada and the giant sequoia trees. The lower slopes are oak grassland and chaparral. The farm was grapes and citrus, but father Ed was also a horseman and cattleman, and Barb was put on a horse almost before she could walk. There were regular family excursions into the high country around Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, and extended camping and horse-packing trips.
Barb studied botany at University of California at Davis for her first degree, working part-time in the UCD Herbarium to support herself. As an undergraduate she spent a 3-month summer doing field survey in Mineral King, a high basin at the southern end of the Sierra. She was accompanied only by Cricket, a horse she had hand-fed as a foal, and by her pistol. Her finding Mimulus whitneyi there helped block a proposed Disney ski resort development. She went to Utah State University among the rocky mountains for her MS and PhD, which dealt with the herb Mimulus guttatus growing near hotsprings in Yellowstone National Park. She spent postdoc time on the east coast of USA, at the Smithsonian Ecology Research Centre on Chesapeake Bay.
At Utah State she had met Mark Westoby, an englishman. They married and moved to Australia together in early 1975, Mark taking up a lectureship at Macquarie. Over the subsequent 35 years the Macquarie Ecology Group became a force in the growth of Australian plant ecology research. Forty members of the group have gone on to become university faculty or career researchers. Barb was instrumental in the group's productivity and liveliness.
She published research of her own on species richness in Australian vegetation, on seed dispersal by ants, and on the spinifex grasses (Triodia) that are dominant through much of inland and northern Australia. Lyn Craven, who had a been a student in the group, named Hibiscus riceae from the Arnhem escarpment after her. At least 50 publications and dissertations express thanks for her help in the field and with identifications. She was a strong, steady, behind-the-scenes force towards expanding knowledge of Australian natural history.
She was small, with square shoulders and straight back and beautiful legs. She was shy in company. In later years her smile had a quirk due to Bell’s Palsy. She loved meat, wine, cornbread, Bach and Handel.
In early 2008 Barb was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Surgery and several kinds of chemotherapy eventually were unable to control the growth of tumours. Before passing into unconsciousness, the last thing she read was a book of memories compiled by her friends, full of pictures of fieldwork, and recipes, and data sheets in her handwriting where she had contributed to someone’s thesis research.
A Rice Memorial Fund was established with donations from friends and family. The yearly interest on the Fund supports prizes to encourage field research.
Spiderman - did you know that he can do anything a spider can?