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Raven draws praise as retirement event draws near

Peter Raven at work in China
Provided by the Missouri Botanical Gardens

Descriptions of Peter Raven's tenure as president of the Missouri Botanical Garden range from superlative to superlative.

"Since he put down roots here in 1971, Dr. Raven has been one of St. Louis' favorite exotics. He is a generous civic leader, consummate showman, wise counsel and world expert on biodiversity. I expect him to continue in all those roles," said St. Louis mayor Francis Slay in a statement to the Beacon.

County Executive Charlie Dooley called him "a treasure for St. Louis," and said "it is impossible to think of the garden without thinking of Dr. Raven."

He is "a powerhouse globally and a tremendous asset for St. Louis" according to Mark Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University. He is "a champion and most articulate spokesman for the environment and its conservation" said Thomas George, chancellor of the University of Missouri St. Louis.

St. Louisans who appreciate Raven are invited to attend a reception honoring him from 5-8 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Garden's Ridgeway Center. Participants can wish him well and write a personal memory in his "scrapbook." Mayor Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooley will present proclamations honoring Raven's commitment to the St. Louis community and the garden's mission. Arnold Donald, chair of the Garden's Board of Trustees will also make remarks.

During Raven's nearly 40-year tenure at the garden, its membership base has grown to more than 37,000 households from 3,200. The original science and conservation staff of five has increased to more than 150 working in 38 countries.

The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House at Faust Park and the Earthways Center have been added to the garden facilities. The former Shaw Arboretum has become the Shaw Nature Center with facilities for education and a new emphasis on native flora. And the original 79 landscaped acres in the garden, including five internationally themed gardens, draw nearly a million visitors each year.

Raven has published more than 750 scientific papers, and authored three textbooks. His "Biology of Plants" is in its seventh edition. He has been called a "Hero for the Planet" by Time magazine.

Among his many other prizes and awards is the prestigious U.S. National Medal of Science awarded in 2000 "for his contributions to the dynamics of plant systematics and evolution, the introduction of the concept of coevolution, and his major contribution to the international efforts to preserve biodiversity."

Under his leadership, the Missouri Botanical Garden has become recognized as one of the three leading research gardens in the world. (The other two are Kew Gardens in England and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.) But "everyone wants to work in St. Louis," according to Rainer Bussmann, director and curator of the garden's William L. Brown Center for Plant Genetic Resources.

As Jim Cocos, garden vice president of horticulture put it, "When people see my name tag at a conference, and see that I work at the Missouri Botanical Garden, I'm given instant credibility, whether it's deserved or not."

To recognize Raven's service to the garden, a limited number of Metasequoiaglyptostroboides 'Raven' Shaw's Legacy(R) Dawn Redwoods will be available for purchase. The new eight-foot 2011 Plant of Merit(R) will be available in 10 gallon pots for $550 a tree. The price includes the tree, delivery and planting (within the St. Louis area). They will be available for purchase beginning at 5 p.m. on Aug. 6 in the Ridgway Visitor Center.

All proceeds will benefit the Missouri Botanical Garden's Plants of Merit program.

Seeds for this tree were collected from Modaoqi, China, and made available to the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1947. The trees were planted on the grounds in 1952.

Raven, who will retire on Sept. 1, will remain active at the garden as a consultant through 2014. Peter Wyse Jackson, director of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland in Dublin, has been appointed to succeed him.

Jo Seltzer is a freelance writer with more than 30 years on the research faculty at the Washington University School of Medicine and seven years teaching tech writing at WU's engineering school.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Seltzer