The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Thomas Clifford Vanterpool

By; Will Johnson

Thomas Clifford Vanterpool

Thomas Clifford Vanterpool

This is an obituary which I received from his son in Canada. Dr. Alan Vanterpool. This obituary appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada. It was written by Michael Shaw, a native of Barbados and later Vice-President and Provost of the University of British Columbia.

“Thomas Clifford Vanterpool, D.Sc. (Sask.), F.R.S.C., Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of Saskatchewan, known as “Van” to his friends, died in Victoria, B.C. on 15 January 1984. He is survived by his wife of nearly fifty-eight years, Phyllis (nee Clarke), two children, Alan and Joanna, and three grandchildren.

Born in Saba, Netherlands West Indies, on April 22nd 1898, Van moved as a young boy to Barbados, where he was educated at Harrison College, a school of which he often spoke with affection and revisited in his 80th year. The College, founded in 1733, was strong in traditions based on loyalty to the institution, the spirit of fair play, and courtesy and consideration towards others, characteristics that Van displayed throughout his life.

He was in every respect a gentleman. At Harrison College he won his 1st XI colours for both cricket and soccer and innumerable prizes for his prowess in athletics. He obtained the Oxford and Cambridge Higher School Certificate in Science in 1916; he said the examinations were the toughest he ever had to write. After two years as an overseer on a sugar plantation, he entered Macdonald College (McGill) in 1919, again distinguished himself in sports, and graduated in 1923 with a B.Sc. in Agriculture, the Governor General’s Gold Medal and the F.C. Harrison Prize in Plant Pathology. Stimulated by B.T.Dickson, and continuing his studies in plant pathology, the obtained the M.Sc. in 1925 and spent the following year (125-1926) as the Hudson’s Bay Company Research Fellow at the University of Manitoba under the eminent mycologist and former president of the Royal Society of Canada A.R.H. Buller, F.R.S.

Thomas Clifford Vanterpool, and accomplished athlete

Thomas Clifford Vanterpool, an accomplished athlete

Returning to Macdonald College, Van married Phyllis, who had been a student in Home Economics, attended the course in plant Physiology given by F.E.Lloyd, F.R.S.C., and G.W.Scarth, F.R.S.C., and lectured in botany. He was thus tutored by the most outstanding teachers of plant pathology, mycology, and plant physiology in Canada at that time.

In 1928 Van was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Saskatchewan. There he was to spend his entire professional life, continuing to work in his laboratory until 1974, nine years after his formal retirement, when he published his last research paper and moved to Victoria, B.C.: a span of forty-six years unbroken except for a memorable sabbatical leave at Imperial Colege, London, in 1935-36 with W.Brown F.R.S., the dean of British plant pathologists.

In his early years in Saskatchewan Van was responsible for research on browning root rot of cereals, then a serious disease on summer fallow crops. He also taught plant physiology; regularly presenting his students with lists of carefully considered “questions for thought and discussion” designed to challenge the mind. When W.P. Fraser retired in 1937 he inherited courses in plant pathology and mycology, not to mention first year biology (botany), a heavy schedule which he maintained until I joined the department as its plant physiologist in 1950. He often greeted me with the opening gambit, “You’re a plant physiologist, what do you make of this?” His questions were always interesting, but seldom easy to answer, and I can still hear his friendly chuckle when I confessed my ignorance. In later years, after his retirement, he gently teased his younger colleagues, saying that it had taken three people to replace him – a plant physiologist, a mycologist, and a plant pathologist.

Van directed the research of twelve graduate students, including two who later became Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, D.J.Samborski and J.T. Slyhuis. Yet he did most of his published research with his own hands, being the sole author of 65% of his 50 research papers and 90% of some 80 abstracts, bulletins and articles offering advice to famers, and reports in the Canadian Plant Disease Survey. Much of his research had a practical aspect, and his former students have happy memories of working with him in the field or on disease surveys. While still at Macdonald he showed that a serious disease of tomato was caused by double infection with two viruses, but not by infection of either of the two alone. This was the first double virus disease to be described in either plants or animals. His published report (“Streak or Winter Blight of Tomato in Quebec,” Physiopathology 16; 311-331, 1926) based on his M.Sc. thesis, was to become a landmark in the history of virology. Nicholas Hahon reproduced a condensed version of it in his book; Selected Papers on Virology (Prentice Hall, 1964) pp. 103-11, with the comment “Vanterpool’s demonstration was a significant contribution to the understanding of these unique plant viruses.”

Browning root rot of cereals caused average crop losses in 1928, 1933, and 1939 estimated at $10 million per annum. Van identified the casual organisms, and showed that the disease could be controlled by the application of phosphate fertilizer and cultural practices which restored crop residues or farm manure to the soil. By 1950, due to increased use of phosphate fertilizer and the replacement of of the binder and the thresher by the combine, the disease had virtually disappeared and Van produced an analytical paper entitled “The Phenomenal Decline of Browning Root Rot (Pythium spp) on the Canadian Prairies” (Sci.Agric, 332: 443 -452, 1952), which should be read by all students of practical plant pathology. He also pioneered research on the diseases of oil seed crops on the prairies, having initiated studies on linseed flax when it first became an important crop in Saskatchewan and, during and after World War II, on oil seed rape, a crop then new to the prairies. Van was vastly amused when the local paper, reporting on the results of his latest plant disease survey, ran the story: Rape on the increase in Saskatchewan, Vanterpool says.” Oil and see rape is now known as Canola.

Van became a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1933. He was a Member of the British Mycological Society, the Mycological Society of America, and the American and Canadian Phytopathological Societies. He was a former President of the latter and a former Director of the Agricultural Institute of Canada. He served on the editorial boards of Phytopathology, published by the American Phytopathological Society, and the Canadian Journal of Plant Science. For many years he was a member of the National Research Council’s Associate on Plant Diseases, and the Province of Saskatchewan’s Advisory Councils on Fertilizers and Grain Crops.

Although the practical importance of Van’s research and his vast experience were known to plant pathologists in Canada and abroad, it was a long time before he received the recognition and support he deserved in his own department. Indeed until 1961 he suffered in characteristic silence, supported by a loyal and loving wife, under an unsympathetic head, who seemed to have little appreciation of his work, perhaps because Van’s agility of mind sometimes created an impression of disorganization among his less discerning colleagues. His work was finally recognized by the Royal Society of Canada, which elected him to Fellowship in 1965, the year of his formal retirement, and by the University of Saskatchewan in 1968, when he became the first person to earn its degree of Doctor of Science for original published research. Always a little sensitive at never having completed a Ph.D., Doctor Van regarded this as his crowning achievement, though he was the most modest of men; but there was more to come. In 1981 the Canadian Phytopathological Society, of which he had been a charter member in 1929, presented him with its Award for Outstanding Research for 1983, an honour that gave him great pleasure. Though he was very ill at the time, I believe that he was equally pleased to learn that the Award for Outstanding Research for 1983 was bestowed on his former student, J.T. Slykhuis.

The memory of this humorous, generous, kindly and courteous gentleman and scholar is cherished by his family, his former students and colleagues and all who knew him. Ave atque vale, Van! “

In 1980 he visited Saba and stayed at the Captains Quarters Hotel. I was not on the island at the time of his visit. He was distantly related to us through the Simmons side of his ancestry. My brother Eric took him around while he was on the island. He passed away on January 15th, 1984. He is the son of Capt. Thomas Charles Vanterpool owner of many fine Saban schooners and also the building which is the official residence of the Island Governor, and his wife Joanna Dinzey Vanterpool-Leverock (daughter of Governor Mozes Leverock). His mother died in 1900 and his father died in 1950 on St. Thomas. He has a sister living on the French side of St. Martin. He had one son, Dr. Alan Vanterpool of Edmonton, Alberta Canada and a daughter Joanna and her husband Oscar Krasner of Nelville, New York.

Thomas Clifford with his father Thomas Charles Vanterpool and his son Allan.

Thomas Clifford with his father Thomas Charles Vanterpool and his son Allan.

Saba can be proud for a small island as to the number of men and women who though having to emigrate were very successful and became famous in other people’s countries. Through bringing their stories to my readers it is to be hoped that they will use these examples to teach their children. If in those hard times our people could achieve such heights then why not now when there are so many opportunities to advance yourself. Not only while going to school but what you have done after graduation. All my life I have tried and am still trying to learn via reading ,research and writing, yet not forgetting that as part of a community I have other obligations towards my fellow man. Not to end this wonderful life story on a sour note I still want to believe that people will be inspired by the lives and achievements of people who I write about.


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