Wednesday, 2 July 2008

So Long Ross

photo by B. Rentz

The world is a bit poorer with the recent passing of Ross Storey. Ross was an entomologist with the Department of Primary Industries, Mareeba, Queensland. Ross was one of those real “nice guys” that you come across every so often.

I first met Ross in the early 80’s on my first field trip to the Deep North. Mareeba is a port-of-call on the road to the Cape York Peninsula and folks heading north for the collecting routinely stopped to see Ross.

Ross was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1949 and came to Australia in 1971 where he worked as a technician at the University of Queensland. He later joined the DPI in Mareeba and built up a collection of local insects estimated at over 100,000 specimens. Ross’ specialty was dung beetles (Scarabaeidae) and he was very knowledgeable in this field and described many new Australian species. He authored about 25 papers and was co-author of the best selling A Field Guide to Australian Insects, a book that was being revised at his death. Some 60 species have been named in his honour.

Ross “suffered” (and I use that word carefully) from Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM) . It was probably genetic in nature as his father had an ailment that seemed similar. Ross was confined to a motorised wheelchair for more than 10 years. He had only the limited use of one hand. His voice and mental capacities were not affected and if you talked to him on the phone you would have no idea that he had any physical problems at all.

Shortly after moving to Kuranda in 2001 (about 40 minutes drive from Mareeba) I visited Ross and asked if there was any way that I could help him. After a while we decided that I could come up to Mareeba on Tuesdays and work with the collection. Ross’ condition was such that he could not move or open drawers, but he could move pinned specimens and use the microscope. Ross mentioned that the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) collection, especially the moths, needed input. Well I run a collecting light at home each night and know a little about moths so I suggested we start building that collection. Ross kept a tally and over the years he claimed I had added nearly 1000 moth species, in addition to the Orthoptera, mantids, stick insects and other insect that I found at my lights. I would send the id’s to Ross and he would have the labels made up and the specimens were curated into the collection each Tuesday.

Ross was a pleasure to deal with. He was flamboyant and animated. His favourite topics were politics and the Australian Cricket Team, in just about that order. Each Tuesday we would natter for 20 minutes or so before getting down to work.

I think I got much more out of my association with Ross than he did from me. I found Ross a great inspiration. He never complained about his physical condition. Indeed, we never talked about it. He just accepted it and got on with life. He attended all sorts of civic events and was well known to all and sundry about Mareeba. The mayor knew him on a first name basis. I’ll always remember how Ross answered his phone. “Hello, Ross here,……..I’m terrific, how are you?” He never conveyed the inconvenience that he must have suffered being in his condition. Afterall, just 25 years prior he was completely ambulatory and able to do anything any of us could. He answered all sorts of phone queries on insects and how to deal with them. He frequently entertained local school classes and locals who had questions about insects.

Ross is survived by his mother and brother who live in Vancouver, Canada. They both visited him in 2007 and his brother was at his bedside when the end came. He had many friends in very diverse areas and will be greatly missed by his colleagues and carers and was an inspiration to us all.

1 comment:

Sam W. Heads said...

Very sad news... a great loss. From your brief biography, it would seem that Ross was an incredible man and set a great example for others to follow.