Monday, December 31, 2012

Farish Alston Jenkins, Jr. (1940-2012)

My doctoral advisor, Farish A. Jenkins, Jr., passed away on November 11, 2012.  Farish did many great things in this life.  He was an artillery captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, the finest teacher that Harvard University has ever known, one of the foremost biologists and palaeontologists in the world, and an exemplary gentleman in the very best and Victorian sense of that term.  Whatever his students needed, he generously provided.  Braving polar bears and arctic blasts, Farish made sure that the holy grail of evolutionary biology, the elusive missing link, Tiktaalik roseae, would be missing no longer.  When his beloved Harvard was threatened by a tyrant, Farish took up rhetorical arms, and, echoing Cato the Elder, destroyed a menace every bit as dangerous as Carthage.  Farish poured greatness into every step he took.

Farish was my hero and my friend.  During my first two years at Harvard, I studied insects.  Whenever Farish saw me, he would fire "Come see me when you're ready to study vertebrates."  He knew my mind better than I did myself.  Inevitably, I accepted his invitation.  He became my advisor.  On my behalf, he took arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, ended them.  My four years as his doctoral student were a joyful time and the best part of my education.  I will always treasure my graduation day in 1998 because Farish spent it with my family and me in the courtyard of Eliot House.  After eating lunch with us, and sharing reminiscences with my grandfather, a former tail-gunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Farish presided at my hooding ceremony, conferring on me the doctorate I owe to him.  A decade later, he graciously allowed my six-year old daughter to interview him for a school project she decided to do on Tiktaalik.  Farish treated her with the gentlest of dignity, delighted in the fact both she and his own daughter share virtue names, and gave her an enduring memory of a singular scholar she cherishes still.

Farish is an example I will always strive to follow, a true gentleman I will always remember, and a friend I will always miss.  Vale, Farish!