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The Cybec Foundation

Science and the garden: Seeds for a rich life


Jim Willis

Dr James Hamlyn Willis

Botanist. Born: 28 January 1910. Died: 10 November 1995, aged 85.

In any discussion on the "greats" of 20th-century botany in Victoria, the name Jim Willis will invariably come to the fore.

Dr James Hamlyn Willis gave 60 years of service to professional botany, horticulture and natural history. That he was known simply as "Jim" to all - from international scientists to home gardeners - is an indication of the respect and affection felt towards him.

He retired in 1972 from the National Herbarium of Victoria (Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne), where he was Assistant Government Botanist. He was recognised for his taxonomic research and publications on native flora with the Royal Society of Victoria's Research Medal, and a Doctorate of Science from Melbourne University, among others.

Dr Willis had a high standing internationally, with links to European herbaria; but he was also involved in many community organisations, using his knowledge and talents to promote an understanding and appreciation of nature.

Dr Willis acquired his exploratory skills and love of nature as a boy growing up in Stanley on the north-west Tasmanian coast.

After his secondary schooling at Melbourne High School, he entered the Victorian School of Forestry, Creswick, and in 1930 became a Forests Commission field officer.

With his transfer to Melbourne in 1937, he completed a science degree and went on to show many of the same characteristics in his botanical work at the National Herbarium as its founder, Baron von Mueller. An energetic field explorer, he collected and classified thousands of specimens to augment the herbarium's collection of more than a million specimens.

He produced more than 800 published items. Most notable was his Handbook to Plants in Victoria, which in two volumes (1962 & 1972) provided the definitive reference for the state's 3000-plus species, and which only now is being superseded by the new multi-authored Flora of Victoria .

Dr Willis's botanical achievements were exceptional, but it was his personal qualities that really distinguished him, particularly his humility and generosity.

Dr Willis's principal association was with the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, which he joined in 1932. He became one-time editor of and a regular contributor to The Victorian Naturalist, and a leader of countless expeditions.

For his contributions to natural history, Dr Willis received the Australian Natural History Medallion in 1960. Other honors were bestowed by the Australian Institute of Horticulture, the Society for Growing Australian Plants, the Australian Conservation Foundation, and the National Trust of Australia. This year he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.

He is survived by his wife, Mavis, three daughters and two sons.

Leon Costermans (The Age: ?.11.1995)


See also Willis, James (Jim) H.

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