The week before classes started this fall, I was at our new graduate student orientation in the Douglas Classroom at the Center for Urban Horticulture. It was a beautiful day, and I was absorbing the excitement and enthusiasm in the room; it was palpable and even more electric than usual on the eve of a new quarter. Afterwards, as I was leaving Douglas Hall, I remember thinking I might run into Professor Sarah Reichard in the parking area or over at Merrill Hall. Sarah always thrived on and reflected student energy and passion, and I was eager to share with her my impressions of this new crop of students.
I was struck with a deep sadness and emptiness, though, when I remembered we’ll never get a chance to bump into Sarah in these halls anymore, or among the plants and parks and gardens she loved so much. That’s been a fairly constant feeling, as I’ve thought about her nearly every day since she passed away at the end of August. When I’m out for a run in the Arboretum, walking under the big sequoia outside my office, or biking past the UW Farm, I can’t help thinking about Sarah and all she brought to the school, the UW Botanic Gardens, our students and the greater Seattle community.
I can vividly picture her leading her plant identification class in front of Anderson Hall, students buzzing around her as she showed them our giant rhododendron and quizzed me on an unusual cedar (which I didn’t properly identify, earning giggles from the students). I remember last year’s Earth Day event, when Sarah pulled me aside to see the then-fledgling progress on the Arboretum Loop Trail. She confided how much she cherished those stolen moments to walk, without purpose or haste, through an overlooked grove that housed a special shrub or tree she absolutely loved. She seemed to know every nook and knoll of the Arboretum and had a story to share around every turn.
There are so many different scenes and memories to sort through, yet all of them capture a sense of Sarah’s tremendous vitality and vision. She lived her passion every day and shared it with everyone around her. She was a consummate scholar and devoted teacher of plants and plant communities, and her travels and research touched scores of lives around the world. She loved working with students of all ages, and she brought that energy and advocacy to all of our meetings and discussions. You couldn’t help but learn from Sarah. She was brilliantly forthright in her approach and never shied from saying what was on her mind.
Sarah, in short, served as an inspiring model for the kind of educator, scientist and colleague we all aspire to be—and hope to cultivate in our students. We’ve lost a dear friend, and the loss feels even greater since we never had a chance to say goodbye. Yet if we take cues from the way Sarah lived her life and career, she will live on with us as a treasured mentor and guide for our community.
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Photo © Wendy Gibble/UW Botanic Gardens.