Remembering Dr. Bruce D. Parfitt

Botanist, biologist, birder Bruce Dale Parfitt of Davison, Michigan and Johnson, Vermont died in Vermont, September 3, 2009, at the age of 56. He was associate professor of biology, with tenure, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Michigan-Flint.

A native of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Professor Parfitt received his B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977, and his M.S. degree and Ph.D. from Arizona State University in 1980 and 1991, respectively. Prior to joining the University of Michigan-Flint, he served Arizona State University as herbarium curator for the Department of Botany in 1981 and faculty teaching associate in 1982.  He served as research botanist at Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix from 1983-1986, and returned to Arizona State University as graduate teaching assistant, Department of Botany, from 1986-1991. Professor Parfitt joined the University of Michigan-Flint faculty as assistant professor in 1995, and was promoted to associate professor, with tenure, in 2001.

Among fellow plant systematists and professionals, he was best known for his co-authorship of the definitive work on cacti – volume four of the prestigious compendium “Flora of North America” – a work that reflects his discovery of new species and encyclopedic knowledge. While working as a field biologist in 1979 for the Bureau of Land Management, Bruce was helicoptered in to hike the remote Hualapai Mountains to collect, identify and preserve rare species. What he discovered was eventually named a new species, Potentilla demotica. During his final illness, he completed drafts of manuscripts of five plant families for the “Vascular Plants of Arizona” project.

Among colleagues at the University of Michigan-Flint he was a valued faculty member for 14 years, chair of the biology department from 2004-2007 and director of the university’s herbarium. By adding nearly 1,000 of his own specimens and attracting contributions, this teaching collection gained national status and registry in the Index Herbariorum, a global directory of public herbaria.

Among his students, he was, as one undergrad put it, “a slacker’s nightmare.” He kept high standards, edited papers relentlessly, challenged assumptions, but lavished his time toward earnest students’ success in the classroom, in the lab, in the field and in their personal life. As a result, many became first-generation graduates who found confidence and success in biology-related careers or entered masters and PhD programs at top universities.

Professor Parfitt was a well-liked colleague prized for his insights into issues affecting teaching, scholarship and service.  His untimely passing will leave a void in the department, college, and entire University.  As we mourn the loss of this great scholar and teacher, our condolences go to his mother, Myrtle Parfitt and his brothers, Arden (and wife Katie) Parfitt, and Craig Parfitt.