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300 Years of Growth

David H. S. Richardson (1980-1992)

David RichardsonDavid Richardson was brought up on a farm in Devonshire. As a teenager he became interested in growing roses in the kitchen garden and exhibited successfully at the autumn show of the National Rose Society. He enrolled in Botany at Nottingham University. He took a mycology course there but found that nobody knew anything about the lichens which grew so abundantly on the roof of the home farm. He therefore enrolled in a Field Studies Centre course run by Ken Alvin, who had just written the Observer’s Book of Lichens. Thus encouraged, David did an M.Sc. on lichen asci and then a D.Phil on the physiology of lichens at Oxford. His first job was at Exeter University, UK, from where he went to Laurentian University in Canada. In the course of a distinguished career he has published extensively on the biology and distribution of lichens, with a particular focus on their roles as biological monitors of air quality.

David Richardson arrived to take up the Chair of Botany in Trinity College in 1980. It was a time when the College and the Department were in transition and Ireland in a difficult economic situation.  He was an energetic administrator and an enthusiastic teacher. In his twelve years in the Chair, he oversaw a huge increase in research activity and funding. He negotiated successfully for the replacement of the electron microscope, the refurbishment of the existing teaching laboratory and the provision of much-needed additional space, mainly in the newly-built Luce Hall. He oversaw the introduction of computers to the Department – a frustrating innovation to the uninitiated! He negotiated repainting and restoration of the Departmental lecture theatre as a quid pro quo for providing a set for an episode in the award-winning film ‘Educating Rita’. He fought off a proposal to close the Trinity College Botanical Gardens at Dartry and successfully negotiated greenhouse replacements there. The year 1987 saw the celebration of 300 years of Trinity College’s Botanic Gardens, with, among other things, a commemorative stamp.

Richardson was enterprising and outward-looking in his promotion of research in the Department. During his time in Ireland he organized major surveys of lichens in and around urban and industrial centres. (The distributions of different species clearly mirrored levels of environmental pollution, particularly of sulphur dioxide - levels that have much diminished since that time, to the benefit of both people and lichens!) Spanning the spectrum from ‘pure’ to ‘applied’ science, he developed collaboration between the University, the secondary schools and State agencies with responsibilities for environmental monitoring, especially An Foras Forbartha (the Institute of Physical Planning and Construction Research).

Richardson was enthusiastic in promoting student field trips, which were held in many different parts of Ireland. Watchful of the Departmental budget - it has never been lavish! - he favoured self-catering accommodation, and threw himself with relish into the challenge of dishing up hot meals for a couple of dozen hungry students.

The Department maintained its reputation as having a friendly, fostering atmosphere for students. One of Richardson’s lasting innovations was an end-of-academic-year party at the Trinity College Botanic Gardens: the centerpiece a pig-roast barbecue, requiring hours of devoted preparation. The pig no longer holds central place (whether through the rise of vegetarianism, or because of the labour involved) but the party remains firmly established as an important event in the social calendar, with the graduating class of the year as guests of honour.

David Richardson left TCD in 1992, having been offered the Deanship of Science at Saint Mary's University in Nova Scotia.  He retired from the Deanship in 2007.  Since then he has continued research on lichens; he is currently Editor-in-chief of the Journal Symbiosis and President of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, one of the oldest Scientific Associations in Canada.


Photo: Botany Department, Trinity College Dublin


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Last updated 24 February 2011 by