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John Robert (J.R., Bob) Haller

1930 - 2016

John Robert (Bob) Haller, renowned California botanist, inspirational teacher, and mentor to so many, died on August 17, 2016, at home in Goleta, California. He passed peacefully in the presence of his beloved wife, Nancy Vivrette, while holding a pine cone and listening to music. Bob was internationally recognized for his work on pines but may be most remembered for the way he joyfully shared his love of the natural world with the rest of us – inspiring generations of botanists and avid naturalists.

Bob was born on September 21, 1930 in Santa Monica, California to John and Wilhelmina Haller, parents who were enthusiastic about nature, camping, and gardening, and who encouraged independent thought and exploration. Bob and his younger brother, Norman, took trips with their parents all over the Los Angeles area during his early years, camping, driving, exploring new canyons and parks. Music was also an integral part of family life and remained a source of joy and solace to Bob throughout his life.

Bob attended UCLA, where he studied with such renowned biologists as Dr. Mildred Mathias, Dr. Harlan Lewis, and others. During his graduate school years, Bob explored many of the highest Sierran peaks with the UCLA Geographic Society, meeting with the group on an annual basis over a 60-year period. Bob obtained a Ph.D. in 1957 after completing his dissertation on Pinus. Immediately out of graduate school, Bob joined the faculty at the University of California at Santa Barbara as a professor of botany, a position he held until his retirement in 1994. A generation or more of botanists owe their inspiration and careers to Bob (aka J.R.) Haller and his undergraduate course, Plants of California (Botany 103). Across the country and even the world, college professors, regulators, consultants, and field biologists continue to wax glowingly about a one-of-a-kind college course that opened their eyes to both beauty and science.

Bob’s pine studies provide documentation of variations of Pinus ponderosa, Pinus jeffreyi, Pinus washoensis, and Pinus torreyana, throughout their geographical ranges. This work took Bob and Nancy all over California over a course of decades, as well as north to Canada, east to North Dakota and south to Mexico and Guatemala in search of ancestral populations. His work has been lauded as pioneering, providing essential collections and baseline data spanning almost 70 years in a changing world; his collection of over 5,000 specimens from 300 localities is housed in the John Robert Haller Pine Collection at UCSB in the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER). He also collaborated on one of the first vegetation classification systems in California, and was instrumental in helping to establish the acclaimed University of California Natural Reserve System that now protects approximately 130,000 acres of land in the state and is used for educational and research purposes.

Bob was a gifted photographer with a magnificent aesthetic sense that filled those lucky enough to view his multi-media presentations of the plants of California and other regions with awe and joy.

After retiring from UCSB, Bob served as the education botanist at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden along with his wife and botanical colleague Dr. Nancy Vivrette, teaching classes, leading field trips, and continuing to inspire a new audience with a love of California’s floral splendor. While at the Botanic Garden, he and Dr. Robert Muller published the Trees of Santa Barbara. He was honored as a Local Hero by the Santa Barbara Independent in 2001.

Bob had a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, amazing his doctors by forestalling the debilitating effects for so long through sheer force of will. Even in this, Bob has proved to be an inspiration to all who knew him.

Bob is survived by his brother, Norman Haller, and his wife, Nancy Vivrette, along with many nieces and nephews. A celebration of Bob’s life will be scheduled in the coming weeks at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden after fire season is over. Contributions in his memory to honor his academic work and research on pines may be made to the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration at UCSB, and contributions to honor his photographic collections, multimedia presentations, and field trip educational activities may be made to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

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