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Obituary: Charles J. 'Jerry' Flora

Story by Carles J.

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Photo courtesy of Western Washington University Libraries Special Collections

Dr. Flora, who served as Western's president from 1967 to 1975, died on Dec. 22, 2013, at age 85.

One of my survivors will have to put in the date because as I write this shortly after my 80th birthday, I have no clue when it will happen. But on that date, I, Charles J. "Jerry" Flora, will have kicked the bucket. There is no sadness in this because I have simply done what so many before me have done and all others will do. Just think what a mess this biosphere would quickly become if none of us ever bit the dust! But enough of that. This is my obituary and I am supposed to talk about the stuff of my life, at least some of it; so here it goes.

JOYFUL THINGS: The most joyful event in my time on terra firma was (is) getting to know a young lady teacher named Amelia Rosemary Germain. Marrying her in 1950 was by far and away the best thing I have ever done. Together we had four beloved children: Deva, Chris, Kim and Lise. Then three equally beloved grandchildren: Etosha, Addeson and Keana. Rosemary and I worried together over all matter of things financial, educational, political, professional and parental. When we grew too old to focus on such youthful endeavors, we became certified SCUBA divers and proceeded to investigate living reefs (bioherms) in many parts of the world's oceans. This brought us into contact with people in many wonderful places including the Republic of Kiribati and enriched our lives to the end.

The second most joyful event in my time was joining the faculty of Western Washington College of Education (now WWU) and confirming my expectation that, for me, teaching young people would be the most exciting, stimulating and rewarding possible profession.

STUPID THINGS: My life has been fraught with stupid things, mostly because of what Rosemary refers to as my macho tendencies. As a college youth I once tried to swim across the Wabash River as the winter ice started to break and sought to earn money by parachuting at air shows. The latter earned me three right hip replacements in my later years. As I grew older and wiser, machismo declined but never disappeared. As I approached my 77th year, Rosemary and I were riding in a small wooden boat in the Tarawa Lagoon with the president of the Republic of Kiribati, Anote Tong, at the helm and his two children as crew, when I shouted at the body guards in an escort boat, "WAHOO, WAHOO!" to stimulate a race in the choppy water. The products of this were compression fractures of my lower vertebrae and I was evacuated by a Lear jet to Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. Rosemary was much too tough to be damaged. Also, too many times, I scuba dived too deep and stayed out too long mostly because my wife was too eager to get one more wonderful underwater photograph. All together, I had no right to live this long, but am glad I did.

EXCITING THINGS: Surely the most exciting event in my married life was watching one of our children enter this world. Being Western's president was exciting at first but might better be listed above stupid things. I accepted the job out of vanity, but once that wore off, I was left with enormous periods of boring letter writing, budget preparing, etc. Some student protests were exciting and on occasion an accomplishment was rewarding. But, on balance I wish I had stayed in the classroom working with young people. The most exciting professional events of my life were teaching field courses here and in the Pacific islands; and the most fabulous of these was a nine-week summer course in which Rosemary and I escorted 13 bright upper division students to reefs on several islands in the central Pacific Ocean.

MISCELLANEOUS STUFF: Attending Purdue University, a summer at University of Wisconsin, a year at Manchester College and earning graduate degrees at the University of Florida were good things to do. Spending some time in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps during the Korean conflict was interesting. Working with Al Swift at KVOS doing "Tidepool Critters" was stimulating, doing the weather for Andy Anderson on the 10:30 report for a couple of years was O.K. but caused me enormous embarrassment for reporting one night that "the terrible drought in Missouri had killed 3 ½ chickens that day," when I had meant to say 3.5 million. Working with Jerry Kraft to study Lake Whatcom starting in the 1960's was good, helping to create the Sundquist Marine Laboratory in Anacortes was splendid as was helping Huxley College come into existence and so much more made life truly wonderful. Being close to Sam Kelly, Alan Ross and Frank Atwood as they gave birth to the Whatcom Community College (without walls) is a great memory and teaching there for a year after I retired was good even though walls had been added.

Though never a skillful writer, I helped produce a few things. The most rewarding book was "The Sound and the Sea," co-authored with Eugene Fairbanks; rewarding because it enabled Rosemary and me to buy some nice furniture. "Normal College Knowledge" was a joy to write and working with the old men of the Lunch Bunch to help create "WWU! As it was," was a fine capstone to later life. My most satisfying writing experiences had to do with Pacific islands e.g. "The SHRIMPER's Maui," "Abemama an Atoll," and "Karakinakin Tianeia (seashore stories)." The most boring was "Seashore Activities" which I was sure I would be struggling with on my terminal day but to my surprise I finished it even though I hated it. There were other things too, such as a few papers including some about microatolls with co-authors Pete Ely and Rosemary Flora, an instructional manual, accreditation reports and things I can't recall at the moment.

CONCLUSION: College professors, especially old ones, tend to yammer endlessly. I had thought to list the names of more people who were especially important in my life but there are way too many. The Bellingham Herald and the Lynden Tribune combined are not big enough. Thank you all and have a good life.


Charles J. "Jerry" Flora.

Memorials in Dr. Flora's name may be made to the WWU Foundation, 516 High St., Old Main 430, Bellingham, 98225, directed to the Biology Department.