In Memoriam: Phil Jenkins

In Memoriam: Phil Jenkins

By Amy WilliamsUniversity Communications
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Phil Jenkins (Photo courtesy of Patty Todd)
Phil Jenkins (Photo courtesy of Patty Todd)
Jenkins on a trip to Mexico. He made many trips to Sonora, Mexico, to study native plants. (Photo courtesy of Patty Todd)
Jenkins on a trip to Mexico. He made many trips to Sonora, Mexico, to study native plants. (Photo courtesy of Patty Todd)
Jenkins joined the U.S. Forest Service around 1980. (Photo courtesy of Patty Todd)
Jenkins joined the U.S. Forest Service around 1980. (Photo courtesy of Patty Todd)

Phil Jenkins, former curatorial specialist at the University of Arizona Herbarium, died on Jan. 11 at the age of 70 following a battle with advanced dementia.

Jenkins was born in Vancouver, Washington, and grew up in rural Washington, where his mother was the principal of a small school. During his childhood, he would go into the woods with his grandfather and learn about the names of the animals and plants.

After graduating from high school, Jenkins – who played saxophone and clarinet – went to Western Washington University to study music. After switching majors a few times, he decided to leave college and joined the U.S. Forest Service and planted trees.

After living in eastern Washington for a while, picking apples with migrant workers, Jenkins made a trip to Tucson, where he was befriended by a group of people he met on Fourth Avenue. He then moved to Arizona.

After several years with the Forest Service and a stint as a firefighter, Jenkins enrolled at the UA and eventually received his bachelor's and master's degrees in biology from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He joined the UA Herbarium staff in 1992 as a curatorial specialist and was involved in moving the herbarium's collection to Herring Hall. Jenkins, who was featured in a Lo Que Pasa employee Q&A in 2009, retired in 2011.

"Phil was an uncommonly knowledgeable botanist," said Betsy Arnold, professor of plant sciences and curator of the Robert L. Gilbertson Mycological Herbarium, which houses more than 40,000 specimens of fungi and funguslike organisms and operates separately from the UA Herbarium. "He was known and respected widely for his incredible databank of knowledge, his willingness to help others, his sincere joy in working with plants, and his kindness."

When calls came in from Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, or an expert witness was needed in a murder case, or a veterinarian called for help in determining what an animal had consumed, Jenkins "provided expert information with exceptional grace," Arnold said. When a student or a visitor needed help, he would stop whatever he was doing "at the drop of a hat" in order to assist them, she added.

Jenkins was knowledgeable in areas across the spectrum from art and music to plants and business.

Patty Todd, Jenkins' former wife, recalled his avid interest in birds.

"He would ruin movies for me by talking about the birds," said Todd, who remained friends with Jenkins.

"He was good at everything," she said. "When I met him, he was at the end of the dictionary. He was just the kind of guy that was always trying to learn stuff."

Jenkins is survived by one brother, Richard, and a niece and nephew.

A gathering will be held in Jenkins' honor on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Herring Hall.

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