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Rimo Charles Bacigalupi (1901–1996)

Lincoln Constance and Paul Silva

    Rimo Charles Bacigalupi, affectionately known to his botanical friends, colleagues, and several generations of graduate students as “Ba(t)ch” died at his Berkeley home on August 23, 1996, at the age of 95. He was the first curator of the Jepson Herbarium (1950-1968).

Rimo was born in San Francisco on March 24, 1901, the first of three sons of Gisella and Prospero Bacigalupi, who were of Genovese origin. At Lowell High School, he showed a keen interest in natural history, collecting and identifying plants from different sites close to home. Among the teachers who encouraged this interest was Howard McMinn, who shortly thereafter became professor of botany at Mills College. Rimo entered Stanford University with the intention of becoming a lawyer, but took general botany as a freshman and soon changed his major from English to botany, receiving the A.B. degree in 1923. He remained at Stanford, where he studied Garrya (silk tassel bush) under the supervision of Professor Le Roy Abrams and was awarded the A.M. degree in 1925. He then taught botany and Italian at Mills College before continuing his academic training at Harvard, where he did his doctoral research under the tutelage of Professor B. L. Robinson. His thesis was a monograph on the North American species of Perezia, a genus of asters. Simultaneously, he produced a major contribution to our knowledge of Cuphea, a genus in the loosestrife family. The Ph.D. degree was awarded in 1931.

Facing a jobless market during the Great Depression, Bacigalupi returned to Stanford, where he lived with Professor Gordon Ferris, an eminent entomologist, and Roxana Stinchfield Ferris, who had a prodigious knowledge of the California flora and assisted Abrams in producing his Illustrated Flora of the Pacific States. During this two-year period, Bacigalupi prepared the treatment of the saxifrage family.

In 1933 Bacigalupi was employed as botanist for the California Forest Experimental Station, U.S. Forest Service, a position which he held until 1938. His duties included the collection of seeds for use in erosion control and for the development of the Tilden Park Botanical Garden. In 1939 he obtained a teaching credential at Berkeley, enabling him to act as a substitute teacher in San Francisco schools. Following a five-year stint with the U.S. Army during World War II, he returned to Stanford as an instructor in biology.

When Willis Linn Jepson, a distinguished Berkeley professor, died in 1946, he bequeathed his estate to the University of California for the purpose of establishing a self-contained and self-perpetuating instrument for continuing his studies of the California flora. In fulfillment of this bequest, the Jepson Herbarium and Library was established and a search was made for a curator. Bacigalupi quickly came to mind as an excellent prospect and he was appointed curator in 1950. He retired in 1968, being succeeded by the late Lawrence R. Heckard (In Memoriam 1992), but continued his botanical studies until suffering a stroke in 1983.

In many ways Bacigalupi was uniquely suited for the Jepson position. His knowledge of the California flora was impressive while he had developed a valuable network of botanical friends through his work with the Forest Experiment Station and various teaching and research assignments involving Stanford, Berkeley, and Mills College. Equally important were his maturit, tact, sensitivity, warmth, and complete lack of personal aggressiveness. He had several enduring collateral interests that he developed to a remarkable degree, including graphic and ceramic arts, linguistics, opera, railroads, and philately. He had nearly a complete set of Victor Red Seal records, which, together with his Victrola, he gave to the Department of Music at Berkeley.

Bacigalupi was the twentieth century counterpart of the uomo universale of the Renaissance. He was truly a walking encyclopedia, able to converse intelligently on a vast array of topics and in several languages. His astounding knowledge of operatic scores had to be tested to be believed. He approached all aspects of his life as a gentleman, with grace and consideration for others.

Under Bacigalupi's direction, the Jepson Herbarium and Library gradually but firmly took shape. Although officially designated a research unit, its staff became heavily involved in public service, thus laying the groundwork for extramural support now embodied in the organization, Friends of the Jepson Herbarium. Although he did not have a formal teaching schedule, Bacigalupi was an immensely influential teacher of graduate students, who felt welcome to seek his advice and draw on his vast field experience, which had included negotiating nearly every negotiable road in California. He was a staunch conservationist and was a member of the Sierra Club for 71 years.

Bacigalupi bequeathed half of his estate to the Jepson Herbarium and Library to further the study of his beloved California flora. His surviving family, all in the San Francisco area, include sisters-in-law Mary and Matilde Bacigalupi, nephews George and Larry Bacigalupi, and nieces Marilyn Adkins and Janice Underwood. All who knew him are the poorer for the loss of his civilizing influence.