I have more memories of working with Dr. Jack Vallentyne than can possibly be shared; his sudden passing in 2007 invoked many more. Though I first met Jack in the late 1960s—I was a post doctoral research fellow of Richard Vollenweider's in Burlington and Jack was head of the eutrophication section at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg—this memoir is really about our interactions and collaborations after his move to Burlington in the mid 1980s.
Upon his arrival in Burlington as a senior scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Jack immediately became engaged in environmental activism around the Great Lakes, especially in Southern Ontario. He was the co-chair of the seminar committee at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters (CCIW) with Dr. Vollenweider, organizing regular seminars on various aspects of limnology. Jack also had a vision of developing an educational program of lectures and activities promoting interactions between scientists and the broader public. Consequently, in 1985 a Science-Citizen committee (SCC) was established, for which I was drafted as a co-chair to work with him for developing an environmental public awareness program. The SCC became quite active and was involved in the following activities:
A scientific seminar series at CCIW
Public lectures by scientists in association with the Burlington Public Library and the City of Burlington
A World Environment Day festival
Environment week celebrations which included a dialogue with Professor Trout (one of Jack's noteworthy characters)
A CCIW Open House program
Johnny Biosphere (probably Jack's best known character) visits to elementary schools
Poetry/Art/Essay competition in schools
CCIW Science-Citizen talk show which aired on Burlington community television
Environmental Minstrels (Ken Lonquist and Doug Brown from Wisconsin) performing at schools and parks in southern Ontario
Science fair competitions at local schools and Lake Research displays
An environmental video festival
Looking back, working on the public awareness program, done in conjunction with and under the supervision of Jack, was a golden era for me and I appreciate having worked with him very closely on a day to day basis.
Jack also visited India as part of his environmental activism and developed a love for the country and its cuisine. Of course, this is something that we both shared. He always consulted me and my wife Fatima regarding Indian culture, etiquette and traditions. He enjoyed the “Samosa” especially when Fatima prepared them for the office Christmas party every year.
Jack was an excellent dramatist, performing as Johnny Biosphere, Professor Trout and staging puppet shows in the schools and at open houses. He used this talent to maximum effect, raising environmental awareness among children, as he was always very fond of educating young people. I recall once he encouraged me to organize an “environmental poetry” competition at CCIW for elementary and high school students in Burlington. He was very enthusiastic about the event and encouraged the staff of CCIW to enter their children. My own two daughters, Saberina and Nabila, surprised me later by winning first prize for their poetry on acid rain. (Here I stress that I was the organizer—not the judge!) He embodied multiple characteristics as a scientist, teacher, dramatist, activist and friend.
Jack had a tremendous influence on the development of my understanding of ecosystems, especially his ecosystem approach to management, environmental activism and global thinking. It's this influence and broader understanding that resulted in the establishment of the Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society (AEHMS) and its journal (Vallentyne, 1993; Vallentyne and Munawar, 1993). The AEHMS is indebted to Jack for his strong support from the time of its initiation (Munawar, 1993) until his last days. At its 5th International Conference, held at Ajijic, Mexico in 1997, the AEHMS initiated the Dr. J. R. Vallentyne Lecture Series, with Jack as the inaugural speaker (see Vallentyne, 1999 for text), to honour his longstanding contributions. One of his final speaking engagements occurred when the AEHMS invited him to be a keynote speaker at the State of Lake Huron conference in October, 2006. The boat cruise that was part of the conference gave us the opportunity to chat about the current challenges facing the Great Lakes (Figure 1).
I worked closely with Jack when he was organizing a memorial function at CCIW to commemorate Dr. Vollenweider, who passed away in January 2007. During the spring of 2007, he was a regular visitor to my lab, working with me and my associate Mark Fitzpatrick developing his presentation for the Montreal SIL Congress to be held in August that year. Tragically, he became ill and passed away suddenly in June.
During his final days in this world, I received a phone call from him. He informed me that he may not be able to attend the Montreal Congress due to health problems. He then complimented me for the AEHMS’activities and encouraged its further expansion as a timely thing to do. Even today I remember his calm and relaxed phone call with no sign of panic or pain and no mention of the illness. He boldly accepted his forthcoming death as inevitable and that he was now ready to leave the world for which he cared so much. Jack Vallentyne is not with us any more but he left a great legacy of caring and preaching for humanity's conservation and protection; he called it the “Ecosystem Approach.”
Jack was not only a great ecologist and environmentalist, but also a great Canadian and a citizen of the world. In his Johnny Biosphere persona, he carried the globe on his back in great symbolic fashion. Jack is sorely missed, especially when we organize any environmental or ecosystem based activities. His legacy and finger prints are not erasable from the pages of history and he will always be missed by a great many people!