In Memoriam

(Photo credit: Elaine Simons Lane)

Professor Carl Douglas passed away tragically on Monday, July 25, 2016 in a climbing accident. Professor Douglas was a faculty member in the Department of Botany from 1987-2016. He was a plant molecular biologist, studying tree biology and the genes responsible for lignin in plant cell walls. Carl was a kind and caring mentor, nominated by his present and past graduate students for a Killam Mentoring award. He led several large tree genome projects, most recently studying genomic properties of poplar trees for renewable bioenergy. He was on the executive of the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists for many years, as western regional director from 2000-2002, vice president from 2007-2009 and president from 2009-2010. He was currently serving as Policy Director and represented the society as an executive member of the Global Plant Council, a group of senior scientists dedicated to using plant and crop science to meet global challenges. Carl was the Head of the Botany Department from 1999-2006.

Tributes to Carl:


In my former role as Administrative Director of the Department of Botany from 1996 to 2010 I had the great honour and pleasure of working closely with Carl for many years. He was my boss, colleague, mentor and friend who always made me feel that I was a very valued team member. Carl was a brilliant, wise, patient, fair and thoughtful man who was loved and highly respected by everyone, and over the years we dealt with many administrative challenges and accomplished a lot together. Those years represent some of the most fulfilling and memorable years of my career and I will forever be grateful for this time. Thank you Carl for everything.

Mutual friends said they felt “gutted” and along with "heartbroken" this is how it feels that he is no longer with us. My thoughts and prayers are with his daughter Jennifer, his wife Lorraine, family, friends and colleagues all over the world that are mourning his loss. May his spirit fly free over the mountains he loved.

Elaine Simons Lane


Carl once told me there is a concept in Germany of the “Doktorvater”, doctor father, a special scientific relationship between a PhD student and their mentors/supervisors. Although our relationship has been cut short, I thank my lucky stars that I had him as my supervisor, mentor and role model. He was so terrific and I will always look back fondly on my days as a student in his lab. The world has lost an outstanding person, and I lost my doktorvater. Rest in peace dear Carl. Thank you for everything

Teagen Quilichini, PhD student in the Douglas Lab 2008-2014


Carl Douglas and I arrived at UBC just one year apart, in 1987-88, but it took almost two decades to really get to know each other. Although both plant scientists, we were in different departments in different Faculty. In fact, it was mainly through our external involvement in the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists (then Physiologists) that we became acquainted with each other’s work, and our mutual interest in trees. Despite Carl’s incredible breadth of botanical knowledge, there was little overlap in expertise (I am molecularly challenged), and thus there was plenty of opportunity to collaborate. We have since published many articles together, with more still in the works. I can trace our collaboration to a particular event… a sunny summer day in about 2003. We ran into each other on campus and I mentioned that the Ministry of Forests had several hundred native black cottonwood clones that they hoped to generate interest in. Carl proclaimed “we should leverage that!”, and by “we” he meant our collective community on campus. A few years later that’s exactly what happened, with Carl (and Shawn Mansfield) leading the charge. Together, dozens of us (students, postdocs, technicians, faculty and partners) stumbled through the poplar genome to accomplish some really exciting science. Carl, more than any other single individual, understood and appreciated what we were all up to and kept the group functioning, if not always on track. I came to admire him as much as I have admired anyone. An excellent scientist, a tireless worker, a selfless leader and a most wonderful colleague. His passing cuts deeply.

Rob Guy


Carl Douglas was a treasured colleague and friend.  His tragic death is a great loss to the extended Botany family.  As an Adjunct Professor at the Dept of Botany, I have had the pleasure of working with Carl for the last 26 years.  He provided a rare combination of scientific excellence and exceptional kindness and caring abilities.  Carl was a co-supervisor or committee member for many PhD students working in my lab.  His gentle and calm approach combined with a wonderful ability to see the positive in everyone and every situation has been greatly appreciated.  I will miss you, Carl.

Hélène Sanfaçon, Research Scientist, Summerland Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Adjunct Professor, Dept of Botany, UBC


"When I came to UBC as a postdoc the only prof I saw who seemed to have really figured out well the life-work balance was Carl (apologies to the rest of you). He did a long bike commute most days, tended a native plant garden at home, went on lots of hikes, enjoyed wine-tasting parties etc and of course this is all while working hard too. He was also one of the kindest most generous people I knew. I think about him every day and I miss him. He was a incredibly human role model to me of how to live your life happily. I will keep thinking about him and I am sure as I go forward with my life, my choices will be influenced by him. I raise my wine glass in celebration of his dolce vita."

Jennifer Klenz


“Carl had a love of science that was matched by a love of people.  He always had a smile, a willingness to lend a hand to his community, and a true desire to connect with people.  We at UBC were greatly enriched for having Carl as a colleague and will miss him greatly.  Sally Otto (Zoology and Biodiversity Research Centre)”

Sally Otto


I have known Carl as a colleague and a friend since 1992, when I joined the department of Botany at UBC. Carl, you were truly a sincere friend, wonderful colleague and, above all, a kind and compassionate human being. You were always generous with your time, suggestions, and advice. There are few people like you in the world today. You will be missed dearly!

Santokh Singh


A great colleague and a wonderful man in general. We will miss his intelligence and gentle humour.

J.T. Beatty, Professor, Dept. of Microbiology & Immunology


Carl, you were a great scientist and above all an awesome human being. I will always remember our meeting during my graduate life at UBC as well as our meeting here in South Africa. May your soul rest in peace. I would like to offer my deepest and most sincere condolences to his family.

Tanay Bose


I met Carl for the first time at a conference in early 2012 where he was advertising a postdoc job in his lab. We met up and had such a good chat that he offered me the position right away. I was hesitant, because I had never lived abroad before, but he spoke of his research, UBC, and Vancouver in such an engaging way that it both excited me and assuaged my worries. Soon after I finished my PhD in Germany I joined his lab but when I arrived to Canada I was still looking for a place to stay. So, the first thing Carl did when I met him was to hand me his house keys before leaving for a week-long vacation. All I had to do was feed the cat and empty the fridge…   

I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity and support that Carl provided for me as an early career researcher. Because of him, I’ve had many wonderful experiences in BC, learned extensively about tree research, and met many people that are now important to my life. Thanks Carl! Thanks for your guidance and support, for our many thoughtful discussions, and for stopping by in New Zealand just to say Hello. I will miss you!

Steffi Fritsche


Carl was a passionate scientist, encouraging mentor, and a fantastic teacher. His legacy will forever be ingrained into all his students, post-docs, and colleagues. You will be missed.

Ryan Eng, PhD, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology


R.I.P Carl. I liked you so much. You always had a smile for all of us, and you were a devoted scientist. You were so "Oregonian" and I mean that in the best form of flattery.

You were far, far too young to go, but this is nature's choice and not ours. To your family and all your colleagues at UBC, I offer my deepest condolences. I am still stunned. May your soul

be at peace, Carl. R.I.P. my friend. Goodbye....

Peter Cohen


Dr. Douglas was my committee member, one of my comprehensive examiner and my referee for my postdoctoral position. He was always an inspiring person to me. He had helped me to grow scientifically by providing positive criticisms. I will miss him and he will remain alive in my thoughts.

Basudev Ghoshal, Ph.D., Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, Terasaki Life Sciences Building


Carl had a tremendous positive impact in my life. He opened the doors of his lab to me, a fresh graduate from Brazil, and dramatically altered the course of my life. I will be forever grateful for having been one of Carl’s PhD students. My gratitude, however, goes beyond a science education. Carl was a generous, kind and compassionate mentor, who supported his students and post-docs as complex, multifaceted individuals we all are. That support is what made my journey into getting a PhD possible. His friendly, calm and positive demeanor was comforting when everything seemed to be falling apart. He cheered together with successes big and small. I will never forget his smile and laughter during lab meetings, softball games, lab hikes and ski trips, weddings, conferences and so many lunches and dinners. His enthusiasm for life was genuine, and he seemed the happiest when we were all having a good time. Success was not only measured in the number of publications and grants, but in glasses of wine and good friends. May his good spirit live in the hearts of those who knew him.

I know it will in mine. Rest in peace, Carl.

Clarice Souza (Douglas lab member from 2001 to 2007)


Professor Douglas was one of the examiners in my thesis commitee. He was a very helpful mentor for me and I'm all the more grateful for his help.  He will be sorely missed.

Thamali Kariyawasam


Two weeks before the accident, Carl treated all volunteers in his lab to Loaf's coffee. For some of us, it was the first time having coffee with a professor and we were nervous! But he remembers our names and chatted about his traveling just like a kind grandpa. Many of us did not know much about the world of research, at least not by practical experience. Carl stood by the door of a world of research and scientists who are also wonderful people, waving to us who were nervously trying to take a peek into the world, he said: "Com'on in kids! Let's explore, maybe you will like it here! Our hearts are still warm from that day's coffee. 

Olive Wang


Carl was not just a colleague, but a leader in forest biology. More importantly, he was a  leader who attracted a following, because not only was he smart and inspired, but he was gentle and kind. Carl laughed in a way that we can still hear. He also took delight in what he was doing - and my God did he do a lot ! He was a bear for work: at one point he was not only chair of a sizeable university department, but he was the P.I. on a huge project. When you work at such a level, it generates respect. Carl made a great deal of effort to be a positive force in our field. He certainly helped out our Forest Biology group over the years. Being liked and being respected  adds up to being admired. Carl Douglas was an admirable man. We were all shocked to hear of his death. It was the end of a giant in our field. 

He will be sorely missed and we grieve his loss.

Our condolences to his family.

Patrick von Aderkas, Centre for Forest Biology, University of Victoria

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George Haughn’s presentation at Carl’s memorial:

Carl Douglas was my friend and departmental colleague for the last 24 years. Lorraine his wife asked me to speak about Carl today.  It’s is not possible to summarize anyone’s life in a few minutes, especially not Carl’s who had such a positive influence on so many people in so many ways. The large turnout at today’s memorial with people from Asia, Europe and all over North America, illustrates how many lives he touched.

Throughout the time I knew him, Carl took on many leadership roles.  For example, he was the head a large active research program that included being the Principle Investigator for several complex, multi-laboratory, genomic projects. As an educator, he taught an unusually diverse set of university courses that included ones for first and fourth undergraduates and post-graduate students. He served as the Head of Department for Botany over a seven-year span and was recently the President for the Canadian Association of Plant Biologists. Clearly Carl was a leader who was not afraid to take on challenges but it was his personality and how he chose to lead that endeared him to so many people. Carl led by example, typically taking on more than his share of the workload. He had the common good at heart so you could trust him to do the best for the group. He was generous with his time and resources and enjoyed helping others. Even under stress Carl was incredibly patient and had a calming effect on others. He was kind and thoughtful not only professionally but privately as well. Years ago when he found out that our family was planning on taking a camping trip to in the Pacific Northwest he offered us the key to his family cabin on the Olympic Pennisula and thus introduced us to an incredibly beautiful part of the world. Most importantly, Carl always seemed to be in a good mood. Even in the face of problems he had this smile that was disarming.

I guess we would all like to know what Carl’s secret was. He always seemed content and was filled with a love of life that was contagious. He loved his family, enjoyed his job and filled his life with activities special to him.  For example he was passionate about food. Many of us enjoyed his home-cooked meals at dinner parties and made use of his expertise in local restaurants and wines. Years ago he asked me to pick up a case of Tinhorn Creek Merlot that he had purchased from a VQA wine store close to our home on the North Shore. Taking the hint, I immediately bought a case for myself. 

Like many people from the Pacific Northwest, Carl was drawn to the outdoors and spent a large part of his life hiking, climbing, kayaking, skiing and camping. I have fond memories of our yearly expedition to Gabriola Island for a camping and kayaking weekend each fall.

I am going to miss Carl a lot. I respected him, trusted his council and valued his friendship. 

The last time I saw Carl was in mid-June at the Plant Cell Wall conference in Greece.  On the night of the banquet, the entertainment was Greek music and dancers. As part of the show the dancers invited individuals to dance with them. Carl was one of the first to take them up on the offer. The picture below, aside from demonstrating that I won’t make a living as a photographer, epitomizes Carl’s joy of life, a joy that will live on in all of us who were lucky enough to have known him. 

Carl Douglas - Greece

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Additional Photos of Carl: