In Memoriam, Osvaldo Morrone, 1957-2011

Elizabeth A. Kellogg, University of Missouri-St. Louis  ASPT Newsletter 2012

Some systematists leave a permanent stamp on the taxonomy of a group of plants, with their names associated in some way with virtually every taxon in their study group. Osvaldo Morrone was such a person. In a relatively short career he published an extraordinary number of papers, most in collaboration with his friend and colleague Fernando Zuloaga, and nearly all focused on the grass tribe Paniceae. The team of Morrone and Zuloaga marched steadily through hundreds of the 2000+ species of pancioid grasses, leaving for the community a great stream of revisions and monographs, and completely changing our view of species, genera, subtribes, and their relationships. While many systematists are content to produce a single major monograph in their lives, Osvado produced several. It is characteristic of this body of work that each paper was illustrated, the conclusions supported by anatomical and micromorphological data, and thoroughly documented. Molecular data were produced as well, often in collaboration with Osvaldo’s wife Liliana Giussani, and were integrated into the morphological and taxonomic projects. In short, the papers are definitive.

I was lucky to collaborate with Osvaldo on several projects, and to visit with him in Argentina a couple of times. He was a kind person who always had time to work with students or visitors, to explain or clarify ideas, and to learn something new about plants. Equally important, he got things done; he was a collaborator you could count on. Despite this focus on his work, he found and treasured time for his four children, of whom he was justifiably proud.

For the last several years, Osvaldo had lived with cancer, and kept it at bay with continued treatment. During this time he continued to work and maintain his characteristic focus on plants, colleagues, friends and family until the fall of 2011, when the treatments could no longer hold off the disease.

Our mutual colleague Fernando Zuloaga prepared a remembrance of Osvaldo, from which the following comments have been excerpted and translated; the original appears in Darwiniana 49(2): 257-262. 2011.

"It is very difficult, but at the same time an honor, to write about my great friend and colleague of many years. ...It has been gratifying to me to share with Osvaldo so many great moments ... We met ... in 1986, ... after [he finished] his studies in the Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Museo, Universidad Nacional de la Plata, with a fellowship (beca de iniciación) from CONICET, under my direction and that of Dr. E. de la Sota. Initially Osvaldo worked at the Museo de La Plata, and during this time we published our first paper in 1986. We took our first, memorable trip together in 1987 to the northeast of Argentina with Dr. A. L. Cabrera, Silvia Botta and Marieta Múlgura. ... [T]his trip was unforgettable for the innumerable problems that we had with the vehicle, together with [Osvaldo’s] desperation at being unable to collect the Urochloas that we were looking for.

"...Osvaldo moved to the Darwinion Institute in 1987 and began a close friendship that lasted more than 24 years. In all those years we shared not just work, but also had long chats about politics and football, and endlessly designed new projects. As he would say "how wonderful to have such entertaining work!" ... I remember particularly the time that we returned late to the Institute, and stayed working into the night, without space, without computers, but more than happy. Osvaldo headed out from San Antonio de Padua, after taking care of his children, preparing food at night and so on, always with enthusiasm.

"We took innumerable trips through Argentina and others to Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, on our own or with colleagues from the Darwinion or other institutions. I will never forget the field trip that we took to Bahia Brazil, with Pepe Pensiero, and the dinner in which we ate, the counters for a lottery game, believing they were peanuts. We also shared long working days, always with the Paniceae as an excuse, at the herbaria of the National Museum of National History in Washington and that of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Our final trip together was to Cuba in 2007, during with he told me about the disease that he was beginning to suffer from. After that, we tried to extend and update various aspects of the Darwinion, to incorporate more young investigators as well as to acquire equipment, and to improve the laboratories and building.

"Osvaldo’s work during his short career was enormous. He obtained his doctorate from UNLP in 1989 and was accepted to the Carrera del Investigador del CONICET in 1993. He received various important awards such as a Smithsonian Institution fellowship in 1993, an Alwyn H. Gentry grant from the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1999, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007. He directed 2 theses de Licenciatura, 7 Ph.D. theses, 15 fellows, and 3 investigators of the Carrera del Investigador of CONICET. Osvaldo also participated actively on several committees of CONICET, on doctoral thesis committees, and as a jury of Ph.D. theses; he was a member of the editorial committee for Darwiniana, a member of the editorial committee and Director of the journal Hickenia from 1995 to 2005, a member of the Advisory Board of the Darwinion from 2002 to 2004 and Subdirector of the Darwinion Institute between 2004 and 2011. He was an Adjunct Investigator of CONICET from 1993 and 1999, Independent Investigator between 1999 and 2010, and culminating with the position of Principal Investigator. He was a director or participant in a total of 40 grants. In terms of his scientific output, he published a total of 94 papers in refereed journals, 15 in national and international floras, 6 books, and 4 book chapters, and a total of 60 presentations in national or international congresses.

"I hope that I have been able to synthesize in this brief note the work and personality of an exceptional person, one who will be greatly missed by his colleagues and friends."

"Fernando Zuloaga
Director, Instituto de Botanica Darwinion"

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith