Professor Emeritus Douglas Alexander, who taught biology for more than 40 years, passed away June 10. He was 83.
Born April 18, 1936, in Denver, Colorado, he grew up in Boulder, and attended Carleton College for one year. In 1956 he traveled to Thailand, participating in a university museum collecting expedition for birds and small mammals. He completed his BA in biology at the University of Colorado Boulder, and earned his PhD in zoology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he also worked as a teaching assistant and instructor. He completed research at the famous Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and in 1962 was appointed to a fellowship by the National Institutes of Health.
He was hired as an assistant professor of biology at Chico State College in 1965. Soon after, local vernal pool ecosystems became the focus of his research. He took his ecology classes to experience pools every spring, and over the years attracted students to do master’s degree research on pool invertebrate organisms, including tadpole and fairy shrimp. He mentored about a dozen master’s research projects, some of which were published in peer-reviewed journals.
“Doug Alexander shared his enthusiasm for all things vernal pool with me, and we enjoyed working together on projects at the vernal pool landscape in the Nature Conservancy’s Vina Plains Preserve,” said retired biological sciences professor Rob Schlissing. “He was always equipped with information, thoughts, questions—and some wild stories—but he was always an excellent listener, too. He was a great friend and colleague.”
Alexander was eventually recognized with an award by the Nature Conservancy for his work at the Vina Plains Preserve, and disappearing habitat and disappearing species remained one of his greatest passions. He wrote the management plan for the preserve for and often led tours there for the public to showcase the wide variety of invertebrate animal life, wildflowers, birds, and other creatures.
Professor Colleen Hatfield met Alexander shortly after arriving at Chico State 14 years ago. He had retired in 2001 but was still very active, attending department seminars and picnics. He had an infectious, happy personality, she said, and “to this day, he is one of my favorite people at Chico State.”
“He was an amazing man, incredibly interested in everything biology. He was always asking what kind of research we were doing and what we were finding out, and he had this way of connecting it back to his research. You could see the pieces looping back together in his mind,” she said. “And he would always tell really funny stories about his interactions with students, how engaged they would be or excited over a silly thing that for us is just science. … He loved to tell stories about students getting turned on to science.”
Professor Emeritus Robert McNairn and Alexander had neighboring offices and chatted nearly every day for many years, becoming close friends and sharing a joy of the natural world around them.
“We kept track of our sons and daughter, who knew each other, and we attended their plays and music performances. We even shared the experience of a small tornado that blew right over our offices and felled a tree,” McNairn said. “Once Doug welcomed my interruption of a meeting to point out hundreds of migrating turkey vultures. Doug really was upbeat, energetic, and full of ideas.”
Alexander was a member of Sigma Phi, Phi Sigma, the Ecological Society of America, and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. He was on the community’s Book in Common committee when it first began toward his final years of teaching, and he liked to pen guest columns for the Chico News & Review on topics ranging from preserving waterways and the value of vernal pools to appreciating Bidwell Park and caring for the Sacramento River.
He and his wife, Kathy, were longtime supporters for the North State Symphony and were familiar faces at its concerts ever since their arrival in the community in the 1960s. They were also longtime supporters of North State Public Radio and the Chico State Herbarium.
Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. on Sunday, August 25, at the CARD Community Center, 545 Vallombrosa Avenue. In lieu of flowers, his family said it would please Alexander to have donations made in his name to www.aqualliance.net.
The University flag will be lowered Tuesday, July 30, in his honor.