Dr. Vicki Funk (1947-2019)
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the passing of Dr. Vicki Funk, who was a friend and collaborator to many of us at UC and a pioneer in the field of plant systematics.
Vicki worked as a curator at the Smithsonian institution in Washington D.C. for 38 years and hosted hundreds of students, post-docs, visitors, and researchers. Her battle with a cancer of unknown primary lasted less than a year and she passed away in her sleep last night.
Here are a few facts about Vicki:
She pioneered phylogenetic systematic thinking in botany. Her Ph.D. thesis on the arborescent sunflower genus Montanoa was the first botany study to explicitly use a cladistic approach.
As a grad student, she drove by herself in a beat-up old pickup truck to Panama and back twice collecting sunflowers.
Her embrace of cladistic thinking drew heat from stalwart pheneticists, but she stood her ground and was vindicated by history, becoming one of the most prominent researchers plant systematists in the US.
As an early career scientist, she switched to driving a VW beetle with a vanity license plate that read CLADIST.
She dedicated her career to the study of Compositae, the sunflowers and daisies and was at the peak of her accomplishments when she received her diagnosis.
The results of decades of hard work by Vicki and colleagues to resolve relationships among Compositae, one of the most diverse plant families, were published in PNAS earlier this year.
She was an important advocate for the importance of natural history collections to biodiversity research and conservation.
She was a hard working, extremely generous, and light hearted person who was admired around the world.
She could make a room full of people roll over laughing.
In one of her last text messages to me, she asked if I would bring her some Montanoa from the field. She may have wanted to revisit study of the genus that was the subject of her PH.D. with new molecular methods. Or she might have just wanted to see and smell the flowers one more time. Knowing Vicki, it was probably both.
She will be sorely missed.
[Post by Isaac Marck]