Obituary: Richard Pankhurst, 72

Richard Pankhurst

Richard Pankhurst

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A former Royal Botanic Garden worker who had a species of dandelion named after him has died at the age of 72.

Richard Pankhurst was born on June 8, 1940 to amateur botanist parents. He grew up in Norfolk and attended Hammonds Grammar School where it became clear he excelled in both nuclear physics and botany. He graduated in 1962 after studying physics at St John’s College, Cambridge and then went on to work at CERN in Switzerland, where the Large Hadron Collider is now based.

In 1966 he returned to the UK and began working in the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory, in the Computer Aided Design group. After moving to the university’s botany school he began a major initiative which involved using computers to model the taxonomy of plants. His achievements on this project have led Scottish botanical recorders to begin using his computer key to dandelions (taraxacum).

As a member of the Biodiversity Information Standards and Global Biodiversity Information Facility he travelled the world giving lectures and speaking at conferences.

He continued his work on applications of computers in plant taxonomy when he became curator of the British Herbarium at the British Museum in 1974.

In 1979 he went on a field expedition to the Outer Hebrides after the museum decided to write a book about flora in that particular part of the British Isles. He was lead author on the resulting book Flora in the Outer Hebrides, which has been reprinted many times. He joined the staff of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden in 1991 after cuts at the British Museum caused him to lose his job, and continued to work on computer applications and plants.

He was occupied for many years on one project in particular, the collation of information on the rose family/rosaceae into a database, and some of his work into documenting obscure references are now available online.

Following his retirement in 2000 he was still an almost daily visitor to the gardens, carrying on with his research as before. He also worked on databases and served on committees for the Botanical Society of the British Isles, and served as chair of the Scottish committee.

As a committed Christian he could also regularly be found at the services of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral.

His botanical trips to Scottish islands continued up until last year, despite him being diagnosed with cancer in 2011. In 2012 a new dandelion species from St Kilda, taraxacum pankhurstianum, was named after him. Described as a meticulous and exceptional man, who was always ready to help others, he will be sorely missed by the botany and taxonomy community.

Richard passed away on March 26 and is survived by his wife, Anne, and daughter Lucie.

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