By David Graves, class of 1974

I don’t remember the circumstances, but somehow after he retired as Crown Provost, Dr. Thimann became my academic advisor. I was a bio major headed for the ecology and evolution track. He team-taught the excellent lower division course “Plants and Human Affairs” with Dr. Jean Langenheim, and I enjoyed the class and did well in it. (Langenheim, Harry Beevers, Bill Doyle were all distinguished plant scientists at the UCSC of our era.)

I will stipulate high academic achievement was not always the result in my sometimes-checkered academic career. And of course, in addition to having been Crown’s provost, Dr. Thimann was a world-class plant physiologist. He authored or co-authored a slew of seminal papers, was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Royal Society, to name a few; in 1982, after he retired from UCSC he won the Balzan Prize (often called the Nobel Prize for disciplines not covered the Nobels), which is big fricking deal in a career filled with big fricking deals. In recognizing Dr. Thiman, the Balzan Prize Committee wrote,” The impact of [Thimann’s] discoveries on agriculture and horticulture cannot be overestimated,”

So there I am in his office, just the two of us. I was a little apprehensive, I have to say. After a few pleasantries he looked over my evaluations and fixed me with his steely blue-eyed gaze. “Have you thought about using your interest in biology in a more applied field, like say forestry?” I was a bit taken aback, thinking his comment reflected his assessment of my abilities. Yet here I stand before you, having pursued a career in an applied field (grapes and wine) requiring a lot of biology, especially plant physiology, terpene and phenolic chemistry, and microbiology. I also use my ecology background in addressing public policy issues like land use and responses to climate change.

Every year, the Academic Senate of the University of California publishes “In Memoriam” to remember the faculty who have died in the previous year. In writing about Dr. Thimann in 1998, the late Charles Daniel, who had been recruited by Thimann, said it better than I could: “He was a renowned lecturer, patient and encouraging to students at all levels, with a genuine interest in their careers.” Here is a link to the entire document—it’s worth a read.

I never got to say “thank you” to Dr. Thimann in so many words, but his insight into how I might make a contribution using my study of biology was spot on. So here’s to the memory of Dr. Kenneth Thimann! And some day I’ll tell the story of Thimann’s reaction to an avant garde composer “preparing” (messing with) the prized Bösendorfer grand piano used by the Crown Chamber Players…