PSU mourns loss of biology professor

Richard Forbes “was the moral center of our (biology) department,” said Stanley Hillman, Biology Department Chair. He was someone who “could see the details in life, enjoy them and share the details,” said Eryn Forbes of her father. He was described as a “kind, giving, non-judgmental and amazing individual,” by son Bryan Forbes.

All these quotes stand as testimonials to the effect the late Professor Richard Forbes had on family, students, faculty and friends of Portland State and the Portland community.

Richard Forbes fulfilled many roles in his tenure on earth; respected biologist, inspiring teacher, prolific writer, outstanding photographer, devoted husband and beloved father and grandfather. He died Thursday, July 18, 2002. He was 65.

In an unusual and endearing memorial celebrating his life, the Portland State community joined hands in saluting the memory of a man who affected the lives of many. Hoffman Hall was filled with students, faculty, family and friends of Forbes, whose profound presence had graced the Portland State biology department since 1964.

Richard B. Forbes was born on July 29, 1936 in Correctionville, Iowa. He earned his B.S., Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and began his teaching at Portland State in 1964.

In 1997, Forbes received the Portland State University Alumni Association Distinguished Faculty Service Award. In 2001, the Portland State College of Liberal Arts and Sciences bestowed upon him the John Eliot Allen Award for Outstanding Teacher in Biology.

Forbes was also well known and respected for his work off campus. His many activities included being an active volunteer at the First Methodist Church. A passionate long-distance runner, he founded the Seaside Marathon. Forbes also found time to serve on the board of directors for the Washington Park Zoo and the Audubon Society of Portland.

Forbes lent his time and expertise to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Mt. Hood and Portland Community colleges, Oregon Historical Society, Tryon Creek State Park and the Portland Public Schools.

Richard Forbes may be best remembered for his powerful effect on those who knew him. In an eloquent yet throat-catching speech, Forbes’ daughter Eryn Elizabeth Forbes welcomed people to the memorial celebration with a humorous rendition of life with her father. Referring to Forbes as the “best and kindest father,” Eryn elaborated on the entertaining aspect of growing up with a man whose life was devoted to the animal kingdom.

Tales of Forbes’ penchant for protecting animals had the auditorium in splits of laughter.

On a family trip to San Francisco, Eryn described her father flying with a rattlesnake and his evident dislike of the idea of staying at a posh hotel on Nob Hill. The punch line came when her father refusing a complimentary ride in a Rolls Royce declared “Richard Forbes will never be caught dead in a Rolls Royce” and chose to walk the distance to the museum instead. The walk was so long that the snake died in the heat.

It was this toughness threaded with a modest streak that distinguished Richard Forbes as an exemplary role model to his family, students and friends. A devout family man, Eryn recollected “he was crazy about mom,” and that his face would light up when he was around her.

Forbes’ son Bryan had a long list describing the many reasons to thank his father. Recalling camping trips, excursions and long-distance runs, Bryan thanked his father for the many memories they had made together. Describing his father as a “walking biological encyclopedia,” he mused on the wealth of knowledge that his father contained.

Bryan included his father’s favorite lines, which had his audience nodding in subdued but delighted recognition. His words of encouragement when pushing someone to do something, “You’re doing just fine.” Reacting to a particularly delicious dessert, “Ooh this is quite satisfactory.” The clincher was his advice on how to run – “Run faster than most and slower than some.”

Hillman talked about his professional and personal association with Forbes by way of explanation from the faculty and graduate football league started by Forbes. Having presented several slides of Forbes running over other players on the field, he observed, “At the end of the day, everyone is covered in mud except Dick.”

Jon Cordova, the best man at Forbes’ wedding in 1960, described Forbes as “special and a man ahead of his time” and “a blessing in my life.” Conveying his love and respect for Forbes, he continued in the same vein as Eryn, Bryan and Hillman had before him – focusing on entertaining stories and anecdotes of a man who had filled such a large part of their lives.

The public celebration of Richard Forbes’ life ended with Orcilia Forbes, Richard’s wife, thanking everyone present for their support and thoughts at this time and also Richard Forbes for having provided her with 42 years of joy.