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1925 Robert 2022

Robert Lynch Wilbur

July 4, 1925 — October 31, 2022

Robert (Bob) Lynch Wilbur, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Duke University (age 97), died peacefully October 31, 2022, at the Duke Hock Family Pavilion.

He was born July 4, 1925, in Annapolis, Maryland to parents Ralph Sydney Wilbur and Elizabeth Ellen Lynch Wilbur. His brothers, Charles Roger Wilbur and Richard Snow Wilbur, were wonderful companions to him. The family moved to Durham, NC in 1933, when his father joined the Duke Engineering faculty, and who retired from Duke as Chair of Mechanical Engineering in 1953.

This was the beginning of Bob’s lifelong love of Duke University. The beautiful Duke Campus and adjoining Duke Forest, superb Medical Center, and the Duke Marine Lab at Pivers Island, became a central part of Bob’s life. From childhood to end of life, he loved following the Duke Athletic teams.

Bob graduated from Durham High School, then Duke University with the distinction of membership in Phi Beta Kappa. He obtained his Master’s Degree from Duke University, and next completed his PhD at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Internationally recognized Dr. Rogers McVaugh was his major professor.

His first position after his PhD was at the University of Georgia (1952-1953). He then joined the faculty as Assistant Professor and Herbarium Curator in the Department of Botany at North Carolina State University (1953–1957). In 1957 he accepted a position at Duke University to join the faculty of what was then the Botany Department, now the Biology Department. Over the course of many years, he was a professor, a former Department chair, a mentor to students, a taxonomist of temperate and tropical floras, the Curator of the Duke Vascular Herbarium, and a prodigious collector of plants of the Tropics (mainly Panama and Costa Rica) and the Southeastern United States. He was fortunate to mentor outstanding graduate students, many of whom he stayed in touch with over the years. He followed their lives with interest and took pride in their accomplishments.

Bob also very much enjoyed the undergraduate students, his colleagues, and all the staff in the Biology building who performed the necessary daily support work. Most importantly, he could not have accomplished what he did without Sherri Herndon, the very gifted and artistic Herbarium Assistant with whom he worked for many years.

In 1955 Bob married Jeanne Marie Doucette from Chicago, IL. She was at Duke studying for a PhD in Microbiology when they met. They were happily married for 67 years and had a family of six children and three grandchildren.

Due to Bob’s great love of nature, his family has many happy memories of being taken to beautiful places that were off the beaten track. We will remember these outings all of our lives, and the lovely sights he enabled us to see. We were usually accompanied on trips like these by two or more of the wonderful family dogs we have had at any given time, as animals were another great love of his. In earlier days, he even brought his dogs to his Duke office, as his father did before him.

Bob was a lifelong member, since 1933, of Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, and his Catholic faith was one of the most important aspects of his life. It instilled in him a desire to serve his community, which took the form of Eucharistic Ministry to hospitalized patients, and he was also a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. Another defining love that Bob possessed from boyhood was love of his country. In addition to his faith, love of family, friends, nature, and animals, Bob loved to read about history. He had a detailed knowledge of history, especially WWII and US Civil War history. He also possessed an extensive knowledge of world geography.

Bob was predeceased by his son, Mark Laurence Wilbur, his parents, and his two brothers. He is survived by his wife Jeanne, his children Martha, Ralph, Ellen, Margaret, Lenore Plymire, his son-in-law Fleet Plymire, his grandchildren who always delighted him: Hailey, Mason, and Fleet Plymire, and his beloved nieces and nephews.

The family would like to express its deep appreciation for the wonderful end of life care Bob received at the Duke Hock Family Pavilion, and through Duke HomeCare and Hospice. A private memorial service will be held at a later time.

For those wishing to do so, in lieu of flowers, Bob would have appreciated a donation to one of the following:

The Animal Protection Society of Durham

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The Organization for Tropical Studies

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Catholic Charities

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