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George Vasey
  BQR ~ winter 1997-98

George Vasey was born near Scarborough, England on February 28, 1822. A year later his family moved to Oriskany, New York. The fourth of ten children, Vasey attended school until the age of twelve. During the next year, while working as a store clerk, he became interested in botany and began studying Mrs. Lincoln's Elements of Botany. Unable to afford a copy of his own, he copied it entire.
One day a gentleman outside his store stooped down, picked a flower from the sidewalk. “Coming to where I stood,” wrote Vasey,“he held up the plant and asked if I knew the name of it. I replied, ‘Yes, it is a buttercup.' ‘Well,' said he, ‘do you know its botanical name?' ‘Yes,' I replied, ‘it is Ranunculus acris.'”
The gentleman turned out to be Dr. P. D. Kneisbern, a noted botanist of the day, and invited Vasey to visit him and study under him. Kneisbern introduced him to renowned botanists Drs. John Torrey and Asa Gray.
Vasey later studied medicine and became a doctor, but his botanical interests eventually drew him back. Now acquainted with the elite of the botanical world, he was introduced to a fellow self-taught scientist, Major John Wesley Powell of Illinois.
Powell invited him on his Colorado Expedition of 1868. Vasey gladly accepted. He traveled with Powell throughout the Rockies that summer and returned to Denver with “a splendid collection which has enriched and enlarged several of the best herbaria of the country.”
He was subsequently appointed curator of the Natural History Museum in the State Normal University of Illinois, a position he resigned to become the Botanist of the Department of Agriculture and Curator of the U. S. National Herbarium. His work there included the building up of the herbarium to one of the greatest in the world. He published extensively and in later life specialized in grasses. He died in Washington on March 4, 1893.
“He was a quiet and dignified gentleman of most kindly feeling and pleasing address. Those connected with him in his work speak with warmth of the pleasant relations he sustained with them. While conscientiously efficient and firm in his duties, his sweetness of disposition made him loved by all. To the narrowing circle of the older botanists who have so long known him and cherished his friendship his loss comes with peculiar force.”

Extracted from a eulogy in the 1893 Botanical Gazette, mailed into us by Don Lago.


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