Microbiologist, professor, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, family man. Born July 13, 1921, in Athabasca, Alta., died May 6, 2013, in Calgary of natural causes, aged 91.
In the late 1930s, lanky teenager Bob MacLeod buried a cedar beam in the damp earth of a hillside garden on Deer Lake in Burnaby, B.C. Forty years later, Dr. Blythe Eagles told the story as he delightedly pointed out that the foundation piece was still intact after decades of coastal downpours.
The University of British Columbia biochemistry professor had hired Bob, a promising local high-school student, to work in his resplendent garden, which has since been designated a national historic site.
Bob was the son of a wounded First World War veteran who took up chicken farming to pay the bills. Dr. Eagles was doing more than help a poor kid work his way through college – he was cultivating a fertile young mind.
Like that cedar heartwood, Bob proved sound and true.
The hard work and dedication that impressed his mentor helped him forge a lauded career as a microbiologist and professor at McGill University that lasted into his 70s.
Bob charted a steady course, applying the principles of science to his own well-ordered life. Early in the journey he met Pat, who was also from Alberta, while both were studying for their PhDs. Pat loved to cook fine food, he loved to eat it and they could talk about science over the dinner table. Together, they raised six children and embarked on some great adventures.
Bob’s life was not without tragedy. His mother, Bertha, his only sibling, Mary, and his son Sandy died too young.
Fifty years ago, Pat and Bob discovered remote Lac Corbeau near Notre-Dame-du-Laus, Que. They tented the first year and built a cottage the next. The place became the glue that held the family together even as they followed careers across Canada and in the United States and England.
Bob was a taskmaster who expected no less effort from his offspring than he had demonstrated. While his high expectations didn’t make him the easiest person to live with, his children excelled in their chosen fields.
After the heartbreak of Pat’s death in 2006, Bob’s memory began to fail – a cruel irony for someone with a brain so crammed with knowledge. He moved to Calgary, and the support of his children there, but the cottage remained close to his heart.
“Pack my suitcase, we’ve got to get to the lake,” he implored his eldest son Doug this spring. His spirit was willing, but he was hours from death, and fate intervened.
This summer he returned to Lac Corbeau when his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered there to spread his ashes in the forest where he and Pat felt most at home.
The local cottage owners’ association awarded him “Keeper of the Lake” posthumously for the decades he spent monitoring water quality. It is an honour that would please him at least as much as the scientific accolades he garnered during his lifetime.
Roy Clancy is Bob’s son-in-law.