"There are no
ordinary people..."
C. S. Lewis

Carl Withner

Date of Birth: 
3/3/1918
Date of Death: 
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Birthplace: 
Indianapolis, Indiana
Service Information: 
At Carl's request, no service will be held.

Dr. Carl Leslie Withner Jr. renowned “Orchid Legend”, botanist, teacher, friend, world citizen and loving husband and father has left the greenhouse for the last time. The book of his encyclopedic knowledge is closed but he surely left a dent in the fabric of the world having touched many lives in his passage. He died February 8 from natural causes after several years of declining health; his family was able to be at his bedside in his final hours at Whatcom Hospice House. He was 93. Carl once told his doctor he wished to live to be 100, and though he wasn’t granted that span, he surely made the most of his time given.

He was born March 3, 1918 in Indianapolis, Indiana to Carl L. Withner and Martha (Meyers) W. and showed a precocious interest in plants, nature, and collecting. He astonished his eighth grade teachers with a 90 species leaf collection, complete with names and descriptions, and collected his first orchids as a boy scout while in his teens. Scouting apparently impressed him for a lifetime with the importance of service to his community and he attained the level of Eagle Scout. He “always liked participating in things and helping out”. Carl joined the Indiana Nature Study Club while in high school, often preferring the company of those older than himself. For high school graduation he requested White’s book “American Orchid Culture”.

In college at the U. of Illinois at Champaign, Carl’s orchid interest was abetted by botany professor Harry J. Fuller and he graduated with honors in 1941 with majors in botany and German and minors in zoology and biochemistry. He was also married that June 4 to the love of his life Patricia d’Almeida Maxwell and drafted into the Army, saying “It was a very busy month”. He received an MA from Yale in botany in 1943, and then during 1943-1946 served in the US Army in Chemical Warfare and Medical Corp training for 2 years at Yale medical school on an accelerated schedule. When the war ended his quit the military and medicine and settled into what was to be his life-long career– botany—particularly of orchids, completing a PHD in 1948. His first orchid paper published in the American Orchid Society (AOS) Bulletin in 1942 dealt with orchid seed germination and another in 1943 with ovule culture (green-podding)—the first such for any kind of plant. This technique was then widely adopted to save time in the germination of seed, being particularly successful as a means to get Vanilla (an orchid) seed to germinate on a commercial scale.

Carl began work at Brooklyn College, part of the City University of N.Y. in 1948 and retired as Professor Emeritus in 1979 having taught primarily botany and biology courses as well as chairing the Botany Department for a time. He also curated the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and N.Y. Botanic Gardens’ orchid collections from 1948-75 and 75-79 respectively and taught horticultural and orchid growing classes in the community. He quickly immersed himself in orchid activities after moving to Brooklyn, becoming a charter member of all the local societies and a probationary orchid judge in 1958. The 50’s and 60’s were the golden years for orchidists in the greater N.Y. area. Carl was one of only a handful of scientists involved in these groups, bringing a different perspective and knowledge base which he was only too happy to share. He also had the opportunity to be on sabbatical for a year at Stanford University and to teach botany one summer at Dachau University in what is now Bangladesh.

In 1961 Carl began the first of many trips to the tropics to study orchids, aided in 1962 by a Guggenheim Fellowship to study and write about the Cattleyas. He and Pat visited all the countries of S. America as well as many in other parts of the world, repeated times, participating in World Orchid Congresses, judging, and lecturing. His final trip was to the AOS show in Arlington, Texas in 2007, to be recognized along with others as an “orchid legend”.
After his retirement in 1979 he and Pat moved to Bellingham, Washington and he continued to write, lecture and judge and be active in the Vancouver Orchid Society. Carl has written, co-authored or edited 10 books and some 180 articles, mostly on orchids. His main opus is “The Cattleyas and their Relatives” in VI parts. He also made, named and registered 35 orchid hybrids, and described 11 species. He has several hybrids named in his honor. In June of 1990 he was proud to be awarded the Gold Medal of Achievement of the AOS for distinguished achievement in science and education, also becoming an honorary life member of AOS. In 1996 he received a Medal of Meritorious Achievement from the Orchid Digest and a 30 year honor by the German Orchid Society in 1998. Carl was most proud of his seminal work on green-podding in orchids and of his contributions to teaching – having at least 27 former students go on to PhDs and several to MA’s, mostly in botany or plant physiology. Always a teacher at heart his wife Pat said “Don’t ask him a question – he’ll give you a lecture”.

His interests besides orchids were many and varied. He said “I always loved to know the details of things”, leading he supposed to his compulsion to collect, and to his “collection of collections”. Interests included nature study (particularly bird-watching), gardening, garden design, antique pattern glass goblets, glass canes, paisley shawls, other textiles (quilts, Guatemalan fabrics, batiks) Japanese and Chinese scrolls, oriental art, genealogy (more travel), food (bread-making and food preservation, world cuisines, cooking), stamps and coins, reading, public television, current events, history, foreign languages (German, Spanish, Latin, French) and the arts. He was truly a Renaissance man bringing an enormous energy, keen intelligence and curiosity obout the world. His life could be characterized by a tremendous joie de vivre. He is remembered by friends as being charming, gracious, intelligent, witty, insightful, and generous of information, a mentor, a scientist and a great friend. He was known to be always late to meetings, be the absent-minded professor and to walk to the beat of his own drummer. He was thankful to his wife Pat for being his editor and proofreader; agent and promoter; patient traveling companion, and best friend, allowing him to accomplish as much as he did; and while he collected orchids, she collected orchid people, helping to keep in touch with many far-flung contacts. They would keep track of which of them had written the most letters in a year, each getting into the 300-400 count range.

He is survived by Pat W. his wife of 70 years, son Dennis and daughter-in-law Karen W. of Blaine, WA daughter Rika W. of Bellingham, WA and daughter Holly W. with son-in-law Gerry Johnson of Anchorage, Alaska, granddaughters Jenna J. and Tawnya Eelkema and grandson Todd Tapley; great-grandkids Ellyat, Peter and Gillian. Also surviving are sister-in-law Marilyn Maxwell, nieces and nephews Carla, Andie, John, Stacy, Barry, Marcia and Megan. He was predeceased by his parents and his brother John T. Withner; also by sister-in-law Jean Ogilsby and brother-in-law Robert Maxwell.

The family wishes to thank the staff of Whatcom Hospice House, Spring Creek, The Courtyard, and Stafholt Good Samaritan Center for his loving care in recent years. No services are planned per his request. Memorial donations may be sent to any of the above or to the Nature Conservancy, Whatcom Museum, or an organization of your choosing. A research or scholarship fund is also planned through AOS. Please share condolences and Carl stories at whatcomcremationandfuneral.com and to Pat Withner by mail at c/o Dennis Withner, 8720 Giles Rd., Blaine, WA. 98230.

As Carl would often say in parting “Pax vobiscum” – peace be with you. He will be greatly missed and his memory cherished.

Guestbook Entries

Submitted by Dennis Withner on

Dear All,
Carl almost made it to his 94th birthday (3/3/1918) but died at 1:43 in the afternoon on Wednesday, Feb 8th at hospice in Bellingham WA.

He once told his doctor he wanted to live to be 100, but hey, most would surely say that he had a very productive and fulfilling life. He was a person that made a dent in the skin of the world, and "made a difference" in many lives.

Holly, Jenna, Rika, Karen, Dennis and Tawnya and Gillian were all at the bedside. Natural causes, as they say. This was at the end of a multi-year slide of increasing frailty and deterioration. He still knew family in the weeks before his death.

Pat, 94 years old herself, was unable to be there due to her situation in her nursing home in Blaine. We told her the next day, and she was stoic.

Holly and Granddaughter Jenna flew down from Alaska, arriving Tuesday evening. Granddaughter Tawnya and great granddaughter Gillian drove up from Mt. Vernon WA.

In accordance with Carl's wishes, there will be no service, and he will be cremated.

A formal obit will be posted here in a few days.

Thanks for checking in,
Dennis W

Submitted by Jim & Pat Chaddock on

We are sorry to hear of Carl's passing. You and family are in our thoughts and prayers.

Submitted by D&K on

Jim & Pat,
Thanks guys, appreciate the thoughts.
D&K

Submitted by Jeannene Mason on

I was so sorry to hear about Carl's passing. I thoughts are with you and your family.

Submitted by Melanie Gallacher on

Dennis, I met Rika at the house in Bellingham, but not you or Holly. Carl was a wealth of orchid knowledge, and I loved listening to his stories of adventure around the world. After our trip to Ecuador, I visited Carl and Pat on several occasions in their home and took homemade raspberry and other berry wine to share. Carl in turn gave me a couple pieces of Dendrobium and Encyclia which I still grow in my collection, and think of him often. His orchid publications are informative resources that will provide an enduring legacy. I am very sad to hear that he has died, and am sending big hugs from Canada to your family.

Submitted by Paula Keeler on

Aloha Pat, Dennis, Karen, Rika, Holly and Family.
“Life is eternal, and love is immortal,
and death is only a horizon;
and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”
― Rossiter Worthington Raymond
Carl's passion for life and his gift of teaching has made a big dent in not only my life but the life of many, and will be eternal.
A huge loss to us all. We are fortunate to have his legacy to remind us of his intellect, sharp wit, and humor. I Will truly miss him, the good times in the field, talking story, helping him in his greenhouse, listening to his gentle laugh. There is a picture that was taken of the two of us that I have in my home here. looking at this photo always makes me smile, and reminds me of how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to know Carl, and his beautiful Family
May your memories of Carl bring you comfort in the days ahead.
To Pat,and the Withner family, sending you my heartfelt Aloha & peace from Kauai
With heartfelt condolence,
Paula Keeler

Submitted by Hope Woolf on

I have known Carl in a different way than most anyone else, I have known him for the past year as his a caregiver in 2 different community. I wrote this the day before Carl passed and Dennis and Karen asked me to post it on here...

Carl was my favorite, my other grandpa, my boo, my other love, my handsome man, my tickle monster, my cuddle bear...I can`t get you out of my head, I love you more than any one can ever know, I know in my line of work you should never get too attached but you took a special piece of my heart. My life is better because you have been in it, you have reassured me that I am meant to be a nurse. I will never ever find anyone quite like you. May angles led you in you my sweet sweet man, I am praying for you and for your family who I also care for deeply.

Thank you so much Dennis and Karen for being so amazing.

Submitted by David & Maura S... on

We are so very sorry to hear of Carl's passing. We knew Carl only a very short time at Spring Creek where my 85 year old mother has recently been living. Carl was an amazing person who always greeted us with a wave and a "hello". Knowing him, although briefly, has helped us to adjust to my mother's new life...we will miss him. Our condolences go out to his family.

Submitted by Lisa Neulicht on

Carl was always so entertaining with his unending knowledge, keen sense of humor and fun stories. He and Pat were special influences on me, Tom and Adrian, our son. we enjoyed many wonderful hours spent talking about gardening, adventures with orchids, food, and everything! Always many chuckles to be had by all. A life well lived and so generous with his knowledge.

Submitted by tom on

Carl leslie Withner the world will miss you. Surely one of the greatest minds in the world of plants with his captivating ability to describe the nuances of the plant kingdom. The world seems smaller now without the uniqueness and beauty of such noble character. oncidium withnerianum the natural hybrid, that is Carl, a natural, lover of orchids, cats and tanuki.

Submitted by Kristen Kamiche on

Carl, you were the most amazing person I've ever met in my life, my days will never be the same without you. I remember the first day I met you, you with your Happy New Year's hat on. You told me it was time to party, and made me put the hat on, you smiled that 1st toothless grin at me, and it is forever embedded into my heart. Every morning when I walked into the dining room, you gave me that same smile, told me good morning and kissed me on my cheek. You made me realize why I do what I do everyday. You're forever in my heart and I still can't believe you're gone. I know you're up there watching over all of us. You're more than special to me CW. Forever in my heart, never the same. God Bless you and your special family, Dennis and Karen I can't thank you enough for bringing him into my life, and for getting to know you as well. I hope that you will stay in touch! Love to you all <3

Submitted by Nancy and John Kaye on

Hi All,
Sorry to see news of Carl's passing. The orchids are being tended in the Eternal Garden. So many memories with each as I pause and life passes through. Sympathy to all,
Our Best,
Nancy and John Kaye

Submitted by The Urich Family on

We are sorry to hear about the loss of Carl. He will be missed greatly, both personally and professionally. His stories of travel, orchids and generosity of information will live on in our memories. Our thoughts and prayers go out to your family.

Mark, Judy and Joan Urich

Submitted by Donna Richards on

Carl did make the world a better place and gave so much by just being Carl--charming, giving, intelligent, witty and insightful. Prayers go out to Dennis,Karen and the family.
Donna

Submitted by Francisco on

Very upset to hear of my professor and friend at Brooklyn College passing away. Both Carl and Pat have stayed with us in Miami while visiting and I have enjoyed being his personal chauffer to various Orchid nurseries in the area. Carl was a great friend and teacher and while doing my undergradute degree at brooklyn college I took care of his orchid collection at the school. He will be greatly missed as a great man, botanist, proffesor and friend. My payers are with his family.

Submitted by Rika d'almeida ... on

Dearest Paula- was hoping you'd surface- how did you hear in HI; and so Fast?? - only recently learned that's where you ended up-
So do you have a spare-closet? Could All use a 'vacation' from this about now-
Saw a collection of Kingsolver's the other day- and was right there taking with you again!
Thank you for your good words and Quote,-- I know P & C both enjoyed your company very much- Pat is at Stafholt, Good Samaritan Care; 456-'C'-Street,Blaine WA 98230;-- She would LOVE a card- her 'technology'-More later; R- keep in Touch---Peace

Submitted by Rika d'almeida ... on

Dearest Frisco- I think of you so often; and wonder how you are! So good of you to write-they say we can get an email addy off this site, brother having trouble, I haven't tried yet-
Your thoughts are very gracious- Both Pat & Carl (and ME!) really enjoyed your company-
I listed Pat's address in an other reply- She needs some card's, they almost made it to 70 years of Marriage!! Can you imagine!
More later-
Peace to you- relieved Carl's 'chaos' finally ran its course --
Rika

Submitted by Rika d'Almeida ... on

Thank you- How does your yard look these days that he helped you plan, NOW that it has had years to GROW!!
As I said in another post- Trying to get people to Contact Pat with some cards-(or even better, Visit her)!-- She's still at Stafholt in Blaine, 456 C Street, 98230 - Frail, but mentally sharp-
More to come- this process is grueling
Rika

Submitted by Rika d'Almeida ... on

The Tanuki are Pat's- just found another one at Goodwill!
Your words beautifully, and Simply stated -thank You- R-

Submitted by Rika d'Almeida ... on

Pat would love to see you; or Just get a 'LOW TECH' Card! Valentine's Day was the 10th 'anniversary' of her stroke-`
I know how busy you both are- Hopefully Adrian received enough 'Influence' from Carl to pursue a similar Path- Or at least absorb some of his 'Passion'!
your words are lovingly accepted-
R-

Submitted by Rika d'Almeida ... on

Dearest Hope- It's incredibly generous, Loving, special People LIKE You- that made my life Bearable the last 3+ years-to know he was loved, and well cared for- Not replaceable! Thank you so much for your time, and your care -I know Carl needed you so much everyday, and was so much happier for IT- I'm glad your lives touched-
Blessing back to You-
Peace-
Rika

Submitted by Rika d'Almeida ... on

Dear Kristen,
what a wonderful 'right on image' you 'Paint' of Carl!--Made me cry --Yet again- will these tears ever cease?- Your care, and love, is was what helped him pass through the days- So many thanks back to you-
Rika

Submitted by Clark Riley on

The first orchid book I bought was Dr. Withner's scientific treatise, a small fortune for a high school student in the 60s. I borrowed the money from my grandmother and paid her back in monthly installments. I still have it and refer to it often. When he came to talk to the Maryland Orchid Society, I got him to autograph it. That book is one of my great treasures. His published legacy covers a third of the time that orchids have been in cultivation and his careful research will remain an enduring legacy. Well done, sir.

Submitted by Jessica Katz on

I was fortunate to have Dr. Withner as a Botany teacher when I was a confused and curious student at Brooklyn College in the 1970's. His class changed my life, without a doubt. His gentle humor, serious dedication and love of botany and his generous spirit created an oasis of humanity amid the chaos that gripped the college campus in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Kent State tragedy. I was his lab assistant for a while, making up beakers of media for duckweed and of his mysterious brews for the flasks in which he'd insert his germinating orchids seedlings. I was smitten by his love of orchids and have been dabbling with them ever since. I still remember his pop quizzes in botany class in which he'd often insert a "ringer" question...like a question about the plot of the Swan Lake ballet he'd seen the night before. I could always tell where people were in the test by who started giggling. One "field trip" to Chinatown included a wonderful lunch of mixed greens after which we had to talk about all aspects of the family Cruciferae we'd consumed! (Of course, that was followed by a trip to nearby Little Italy for cannolis.)

His gentle lovingkindness to his students and passion for his work have been lessons and guides to me.

I am greatly saddened by his passing, but feel truly blessed that I had a chance to know him.

My deep, heartfelt condolences to you all.

Jessica Katz

Submitted by Karen Withner on

Many of you know me some of you do not. I am Carl and Pat's daughter in law, wife of Dennis, sister in law to Holly and Rika, Aunt to Jenna, mother to Tawnya and Todd and grandmother to Elly, Peter and Gillian and a friend to many. I feel lucky and blessed to be a part of the Withner family. I knew Carl in a different way than alot of people. I knew him as a kind, gentle soul, a man of humor and humility. I came along after Carl had accomplished many things that most can only dream of. I had no idea that Carl was famous when I met my husband, I only knew that he was a great father in law. Over the years I was able to see why people loved him, admired him and wanted to be around him. I think Dennis and I are the lucky ones because we got to have him live with us the last 10 years of his life. We had our trials and tribulations but it has been an honor to be there for him, to care for him to love him. I will miss him terribly as most of us will but I will remember all the good times we had with him, the travels, the laughter, the tears. For me the best thing Carl did was to give me my husband and accept me into his family with loving arms. I have told Dennis over the years how lucky I thought both Pat and Carl have been because they have lived 10 life times more than the average person can ever hope for. We are all better for having known him and Pat. I know he will live in our hearts for ever. Karen Withner

Submitted by D&K on

Just showed the obit and messages to Pat at Stafholt home. She can read what is written.
Dennis & Karen

Submitted by Paula Keeler on

Beautifully written obit on Carl. Still feels unreal that He is gone in the physical, but I am sure you are feeling that immensely. Having lost both of my parents, I can understand and relate it what you are all going through right now and my heart goes out to. Yes, I do have more than a closet :-), and you are welcome to come and restore. Card and letter is on its way to Pat. took me a couple of attempts, as my emotions got the better of me. the simple footprints that people leave on your heart can have such major impact, and your parents have left theirs on mine :-)Also wanted your family to know that I emailed Moises Behar (From Guatemala, living in Brazil) to let him know of Carl's passing. Wishing you lots of peace and Aloha Paula

Submitted by Greg A. on

Dr. Withner's contribution to orchidology are monumental. His six volume set, “The Cattleyas and their Relatives”, are among the most used books in our bookcase.

Submitted by john ingram on

I met Carl Withner only very briefly and very late in his life, but I am glad to write that Dr. Withner's six volumes on the Cattleyas were among the first materials I acquired from Mary Noble McQuerry when I had planned to start the process to be an accredited American Orchid Society judge. While my color vision would not allow such an option, I continued to be involved in the AOS and its library and archives and to retain my personal interest in the Schomburgkia group, and I make frequent reference to that specific volume of Carl Withner's set of six. Professor Withner's intimate knowledge of orchids, his clarity of explanation, and his dry/wry sense of humor will remain with us for as long as the printed word (even in its digital format) survives. I feel certain that he would approve.

Submitted by Sergio Englert on

I met Carl many years ago when he visited Brasil.
His books on orchids were very useful to me and stil are a reference when I need to know about our brasilian orchids.
He did a great job for the Orchid world.

Sergio Englert - Ricsel Orquideas

Submitted by Roger Firestone on

Professor Withner was my teacher at Brooklyn College. I loved his depth of knowledge, his joie de vivre, and sense of humor. He told us that he didn't have blood in his veins, he had chlorophyll.
I'm saddened to learn of his passing.
He gave me a love of botany, and taxonomy.

Submitted by Marc Sklar on

I was looking at the Bronx Botanical Gardens Orchid Show website and thought of Professor Withner. I was saddened to learn of his death. I was a student in his Introductory Botany class at Brooklyn College in 1977. Carl was an extraordinary teacher. You could not take a class with him and not fall in love with botany. I cherish the memory of a lovely evening spent at his home for dinner with his loving wife. Even though I have not seen or spoken to Carl in 35 years I will miss him.

Submitted by Bill Leonard on

I was fortunate to have Carl and Pat stay at my home on several occasions when he was a guest speaker for the Oregon Orchid Society. I always felt honored and humbled by their presence, and learned so much about orchids from those conversations. Some labels in my greenhouse still bear Carl's handwriting, as he crossed out species names and wrote in the correct ones. Memories of Carl and Pat will remain among my most-treasured orchid experiences.

Submitted by Carl Klass on

Carl was the kindest and sweetest individual that I have known. His demeanor was easy-going but with a twist. I was very excited when I was told that Dr. Withner was to be my thesis advisor. I met with him one afternoon to receive my instructions and topic. Well, he handed me an envelope and said your assignment in in the envelope. Open it and let's discuss the topic.

I opened the folder with some trepedation and found a 100 page article, in German! Naturally, I had taken Spanish and French. I smiled and said OK. He looked at me with a smile and said, you are to identify growth stimulators in orchid pollen. I said, great!. Now, orchid pollen is not necessarily a commonly found commodity. He looked at me, and said nothing! I told him, ok i'm on my way!

Little did Dr. Withner know, that I had an uncle in the flower distribution business. A call to my uncle resulted in an invitation to a orchid grower on Long Island. I explained my need and was immediately invited to visit the orchid growing facility, thirty minutes from my home. The owner told me to bring a car with a large capacity for luggage. I thought that he was kidding me, but I did as he had suggested. I was taken to a walk-in refrigerator on the property and discovered about 20 packing cartons with orchids that could not be sold. The owner said, take them all since there is very little pollen available per flower!

Since I was managing the Clinical Biochemistry laboratory in a Long Island hospital, I transferred the cartons to my walk-in refrigerator. It took several weeks to disect each flower and to transfer the microscopic volume of pollen to glass vials. The rest of the story involves late night entry to the research labs at Brooklyn College to harvest the test subjects used to demonstrate plant growth compounds. The study took over two years since I was accepted as an instructor to the Medical Service Corps, USAF Air University, Montgomery, Alabama, following a year teaching Comparative Anatomy under Dr. Ben Coonfield.

When I flew back to Brooklyn College to stand for the Orals, I was greeted by the majority of the Biology Department. Since I was a 1st Lt in the USAF, one of the instructors tried to shake me by standing and saying "Carl, be careful, i'm a Sargeant in the Army Reserve. Well, the Chairman of the Biology Department also stood and said, "Don't worry Carl, I'm a Commander in the Naval Reserves".

That was 52 years ago, and I and my family have been fortunate to have lived a interesting life since.

Regards to all that have had connection to Carl Withner and his collegues.

Submitted by Paul Rubin on

It is with great saddness that I learned just today of my old Professor passing. I took Botany in 1967 with Carl and his co-teacher Dr. Peter Nelson at Brooklyn
College. I was so inspired by his love and knowledge of his subject area that I went on for my PhD in Biology/plant physiology with Carl as one of my
doctoral advisors (completed in 1976). He has been an inspiration for my developing a passion for many areas of work and study during my life. Though I have not been in touch for many years I have never forgotten his unbelieveable smile and laugh. Rest in Peace with the angels my professor.
Paul Rubin Phd Mtax

Submitted by Neil S. Silber, M.D. on

Carl was my professor of Botany at Brooklyn College in 1970. He taught me to think critically, to forgive the shortcomings of others, to embrace diversity, as well as the value of unconditional friendship. Carl and Pat befriended, nurtured, and positively influenced many Brooklyn College students, including myself. The angels must think themselves fortunate now that Carl is with them

Submitted by Michael Ashe on

Carl was a mentor and friend. I did the illustration work for two of his books (V & VI of the Cattleya's and their relatives). Every time you saw Carl, he was a teacher foremost. Even potting plants you would learn about botany. His yard was full of specimens, even the grass was exotic. He was always a teacher, always a friend.

Submitted by Dennis Withner on

Carl's wife, Pat Withner, died this afternoon at her nursing home at the age of 95. This, after suffering a debilitating stroke on Valentines day 2002 that left her paralyzed on the right side and unable to speak. A separate obit page for her will be forthcoming for her in a few days. She said she was at peace shortly before her end.

Submitted by Fred Sack on

Carl changed my life. I was a sociologist who loved the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and plants in the Caribbean. He supported me in sitting in, rather than taking, courses in Botany at Brooklyn College, and encouraged me to take field trips in the Caribbean. I will never forget the botanical forays he led around the NY area, especially in the Pine Barrens. Nor likely his letting the "kids" in the tour discover for themselves that a sphagnum bog is not a "floor" but an immersion experience. His encouragement helped me decide to do my Ph D at Cornell in Plant Biology. I have been a Professor of Botany/Plant Biology for decades, first at Ohio State University, and now at the University of British Columbia. It is hard to think of anyone who has influenced my life more, has brought more joy into living, and has shown that a life of discovery, curiosity, research, mentorship and teaching is a privilege and a passion. Carl, you taught me more than you'll ever know. Sweet, brilliant, playful, supportive, inviting man! And thanks to Barry Palevitz for informing and hooking me up with this Guestbook.
Fred Sack Professor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver Canada

It is with deep sadness that I just learned of Dr. Withner’s passing, and just recently that of his beloved wife Pat. I took Botany with Carl back in the early 60’s, at Brooklyn College. I have very fond memories of that class: the labs, interacting with Carl, the post semester dinner at The Great Shanghai restaurant in upper Manhattan. Looking back, I can only smile at the memories.
Carl was an incredible influence on my early career. He made it possible, along with Clara Blake and Peter Nelson for me to do my Ph. D work at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He literally saved my skin after one really bad semester in 1965. I had fallen hopelessly in love with my wife Francine, and everything else went by the wayside. I don’t know what he wrote about me in his letter of recommendation, but it must have been very special.
Carl was a mentor in the true sense of the word. He cared about me, nurtured my interests, and opened my eyes to all the possibilities that lay before me then. Carl was an incredibly generous person and I tried to pass his lessons on to my students and advisees here at the University of Georgia, where I taught and conducted research for almost 30 years [I’m retired now]. Some years ago I was asked to write a brief article [I think it was for either Plant Physiology or The Plant Cell] on the importance of mentors in one’s life. Of course, Carl was prominent on my list of people who extended a helping hand and plenty of understanding and caring had along my way.
I know how proud the family must be of Carl and Pat [I met her only a couple of times]. He was as we used to say in NY, a true mensch! I count my lucky stars that he passed through my life.

Barry Palevitz, BC class of 1966
Professor Emeritus, University of Georgia.

Corrected:

It is with deep sadness that I just learned of Dr. Withner’s passing, and just recently that of his beloved wife Pat. I took Botany with Carl back in the early 60’s, at Brooklyn College. I have very fond memories of that class: the labs, interacting with Carl, the post semester dinner at The Great Shanghai restaurant in upper Manhattan. Looking back, I can only smile at the memories.
Carl was an incredible influence on my early career. He made it possible, along with Clara Blake and Peter Nelson for me to do my Ph. D work at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He literally saved my skin after one really bad semester in 1965. I had fallen hopelessly in love with my wife Francine, and everything else went by the wayside. I don’t know what he wrote about me in his letter of recommendation, but it must have been very special.
Carl was a mentor in the true sense of the word. He cared about me, nurtured my interests, and opened my eyes to all the possibilities that lay before me then. Carl was an incredibly generous person and I tried to pass his lessons on to my students and advisees here at the University of Georgia, where I taught and conducted research for almost 30 years [I’m retired now]. Some years ago I was asked to write a brief article [I think it was for either Plant Physiology or The Plant Cell] on the importance of mentors in one’s life. Of course, Carl was prominent on my list of people who extended a helping hand and offered plenty of understanding and caring along my way.
I know how proud the family must be of Carl and Pat [I met her only a couple of times]. He was as we used to say in NY, a true mensch! I count my lucky stars that he passed through my life.

Barry Palevitz, BC class of 1966
Professor Emeritus, University of Georgia.

Submitted by Isolde Perry on

Dear Withner Family, The thought of Carl just popped into my head a few moments ago and I decided to google his name and found all this information about him. Thank you for that. I was one of his students in horticulture at Belllngham Voc Tech over 30 yrs ago. Of course I thought he was old but now I am older than he was then! I also house sat for him and Pat when they went travellng and took care of the greenhouse in the back yard. Once he pollinated an orchid and said it would be named after my nickname, "Iso". I have wondered what became of that plant! I have fond and wonderful memories of Carl as a teacher and fellow plant lover and of Pat and her generosity. On my wall hangs an "antique" piece of fabric that they brought back from Mexico as a gift for my housesitting.
Our days here are brief and we have so much to be thankful for with people like Carl in the world. Many blessings and many thanks to him for his life and his sharing of his gifts and passions. Love, Isolde Perry, now in Port Townsend, WA

Submitted by Holly on

Thank you for your posting Iso. This page I know is just a small slice of all the lives Carl (and Pat) touched and I love reading the stories. I wish there were more. I do check it periodically still. There is also a page for my mother, and I would love for you to add to it. Sadly, the anniversary of her death recently passed. I really don't know about the orchid. He did name several and maybe there is a list somewhere. I'll try to remember to let you know if I ever see it. He had to divest himself of the orchid collection when he moved in with my brother. Thanks for your story and thoughts, Holly

Submitted by Harry Kovsky on

I simply want to cry. He was such a wonderful man. He taught me botany at Brooklyn College and was an advisor to our fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, a fraternity of former boy scouts - with many Eagle Scouts as members. Carl would accompany us on overnight hikes and trips and was responsible for producing his most famous bug juice that got everyone bugged out. I visited with him twice in Bellingham and met his wife Pat and now grown son, Dennis the Menace, which is what we called him when he was a boy. Dr. Withner was a unique man, a wonderful, good hearted friend to all he came in contact with. His life is an example for all of us. We all loved him and we will all mourn him. God bless him and God bless his family. Harry Kovsky

Submitted by Stewart Gooderman on

I was going home from my office in downtown San Francisco yesterday evening, got on BART, and there in the car I sat down in, was an ad for the Bay Area Orchid Expo. I immediately thought of my Botany Professor at Brooklyn College, Dr Withner. With iPhone in hand, I did a search and was tremendously saddened to find out that Dr W and Pat his wife passed away in 2012.

When I was in professional school, our dean, Dr Norman Haffner spoke about us as becoming change agents in society. How what we do will affect other people's lives and outcomes. Dr Carl and his Patricia were surely that. Change agents. I had many teachers in College, but the one I'll always remember is Carl Withner. The field trips, the books of plant pressings, the Italian dinners in Greenwich Village, the Fisher Scientific ethanol!!!

And it's funny how one incident can be etched in your mind and never leave. I brought a cutting that I thought was clover and he took one look at it with a frown and said "That's Oxalis!" and walked away. Now, every year around this time when the Oxalis blooms on lawns and side patches, I still remember Dr Withner's exchange. I don't think there's a teacher at Brooklyn College that I remember more than Dr Carl Withner. He and Pat always seemed to just being themselves. I wonder if they truly ever knew just how much they touched other people's lives.

זיכרונו לברכה (may his memory be a blessing)

Submitted by Avi on

Epiphytes. I simply forgot that word on a botany test in Dr. Withner's class circa 1971 but I have not forgotten it since. :). I came to this site by chance and was happy to see that he lived a long life. We grow many orchids in our home and even a few epiphytes. . Thank you Dr. Withner for teaching me to appreciate botany.

Submitted by Walsh on

I am extremely sad to hear about the life of this great man. To me, he was a great teacher and he was the reason why I built so much interest in the field of Botany. My prayers will be there for him. May his soul rest in peace.
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