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Lincoln Constance, patriarch of botany at UC Berkeley and long-time administrator, has died at 92
15 June 2001

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations


Lincoln Constance

Lincoln Constance, respected botanist and former dean of the College of Letters & Science.

Berkeley - Lincoln Constance, a much respected botanist and administrative leader at the University of California, Berkeley, died of respiratory failure after a brief illness on Monday, June 11, at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley. He was 92.

Constance was professor emeritus of botany and an expert on plants of the parsley family - the Umbelliferae, an economically important group that includes carrots, parsley, fennel and poison hemlock. During his six-decade career, he served as director of UC Berkeley's University Herbarium and as president of the California Academy of Sciences.

Just as important were his years as an administrator at UC Berkeley. He held the post of dean of the College of Letters & Science - UC Berkeley's largest college - from 1955 to 1962, and served as vice chancellor for academic affairs from 1962 to 1965. His tenure as vice chancellor coincided with the turbulent free speech years. He served as acting chancellor at various times, including a brief period before Roger Heyns became chancellor in 1965. He retired in 1976.

"Lincoln was the patriarch of botany at UC Berkeley," said Brent Mishler, professor of integrative biology and current director of the University and Jepson Herbaria. "He was immensely influential in shaping the modern history of the university and of systematic botany on a worldwide level.

"In addition to his numerous professional accomplishments, Lincoln was a true gentleman and an exceptionally generous colleague, mentor and friend."

Clark Kerr, who was UC Berkeley's first chancellor from 1952 until 1958, recalled in 1988 that Constance was one of the faculty responsible for bolstering UC Berkeley's academic reputation. As a member of the campus budget committee and later dean, he bore much of the responsibility for weeding out unproductive or ineffective members of the faculty and hiring academics who were strong both in teaching and research. By 1964, a national study placed all UC Berkeley departments surveyed in the top six nationwide and called the campus "the best balanced distinguished university" in the country.

Because of the pivotal role Constance played, Kerr presented him in 1988 with the Clark Kerr Award, an honor given yearly by the Academic Senate.

Paul Licht, current dean of the biological sciences at UC Berkeley, remembers him as very dedicated, to the point of helping keep the campus clean. "He would never pass a piece of trash without picking it up and throwing it in a trash bin," Licht said. "He deeply cared about every aspect of the campus that he loved so much."

Born in Eugene, Oregon, on Feb. 16, 1909, Constance graduated from the University of Oregon in 1930 and entered UC Berkeley as a graduate student in botany. He studied under Willis Linn Jepson, the author of the first systematic survey of California plants.

After obtaining his PhD in botany in 1934, Constance spent three years at Washington State College (now Washington State University) as director of their herbarium before returning to UC Berkeley as an assistant professor in 1937. He subsequently became curator of seed plants in the University Herbarium, then chair of the department of botany from 1954 to 1955, and finally director of the University Herbarium for 12 years, from 1963 to 1975. He was trustee of the Jepson Herbarium, founded in 1950 for the study and collection of California flora, from 1960 until his death, and helped oversee the editing of a new edition of Jepson's 1925 "Manual of the Flowering Plants of California," which was published in 1993 as "The Jepson Manual, Higher Plants of California."

During World War II, he left to become a geobotanist and eventually a research analyst at the Office of Strategic Services in Washington.

During his career, he contributed as a parsley family expert to numerous plant manuals, including compendia of the plants of Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Panama, Venezuela and Peru. Many of these contributions were in collaboration with long-time colleague Mildred E. Mathias, late professor emeritus of botany at UCLA.

Constance applied to the parsley family a new way of classification called biosystematics, which takes account of all characteristics of a plant, from habitat to chromosome number, in determining relationships.

"He made modern sense out of a very diverse and complicated group," the Umbelliferae or Apiaceae, Mishler said. "He was one of the top plant systematists of his generation."

In 1986, he received the Asa Gray Award of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists for "outstanding contributions to systematic botany."

He remained active after his retirement, among other things chairing for 23 years, until 1998, the Academic Senate's Committee on Memorial Resolutions, which compiles memoria for deceased faculty.

Constance was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the California Academy of Sciences, and a foreign member of the Linnaen Society of London and the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. He served as president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, the California Botanical Society and the Botanical Society of America.

He is survived by his son, William, of Berkeley and a niece, Nancy Constance Doornink, of Springfield, Ore. His wife, Sara (Sally) Luten Constance of Oregon, died in 1991.

A memorial service will be held in September. The family requests that donations in his memory be sent to the UC Botanical Garden or the University Herbarium, University of California, Berkeley CA 94720.