Sarah was always so full of energy, so full of ideas, so full of life. She relished her role as the Director of UW Botanic Gardens and was everywhere—creating new programs, working on new gardens, dreaming big. So, it was no surprise that she led horticulture tours around the world: to Cuba, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and South Africa. The total surprise was the news that she suffered a brain aneurysm and died in Cape Town on Sunday, August 28, while leading that last trip. She was only 58 years old. Our condolences to her husband, Brian, who was with her at the last.
When we got the news on Monday morning, her colleagues in the Arboretum were grieved and shocked. This can’t be true! That first day we began to console each other and to tell stories about her. And, it became so clear how many lives she touched, how many people felt a special connection to her.
She spent nearly her entire career connected to the University of Washington and the Arboretum. When she first became Director, she spoke at our annual meeting. The title of her speech, “My Arboretum,” was a play on the social media site Myspace. She told of coming here to the Arboretum as a teenager and falling in love with the place. She earned all of her degrees at UW, studying botany, horticulture, and environmental and forest sciences. She went on to spend nearly all of her professional career at UW as well, becoming a full professor and a noted expert on invasive plants. She breathed purple and gold.
Her leadership in the Arboretum was eventful. She started the BioBlitz, citizen science at its best. She loved the children’s education programs, which she expanded to include the summer camps and the innovative Fiddleheads Forest Preschool. She mentored and nurtured her grad students, many of whom later came to work for her. And, she was restless to get things done: the New Zealand Forest, the camellia renovation, the new Loop Trail.
Sarah and I shared an interest in improving the visitor experience here. From the first, we made changes—a new coffee bar in the lobby, new patio furniture, better interpretive signage. We fretted about the parking problems. Our last two projects together have been so much fun: planning a new summer-oriented garden and winning the completion to get it funded, and putting together the plans for a new Environmental Education Center in the Arboretum. It was Sarah’s dream to have a great place for kids and adults to learn about nature and their connection to the environment.
We had just started to raise the funds for the pre-design for the building. Oh, my! Now that falls to those of us who intend to help remember her by finishing the work she began. In addition to hundreds of cherished friendships, I hope that this can be a lasting legacy to her. Peace, Sarah. We’ll do our best.
—Paige Miller, Executive Director, Arboretum Foundation
Reprinted from the fall 2016 issue of the Arboretum Bulletin
Memorial for Sarah—Thursday, October 13
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