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George F. Estabrook
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

In memoriam – George F. Estabrook: ethnobotanist, musician, athlete

We will miss seeing Professor George F. Estabrook's bicycle parked outside the doors of the Kraus Natural Science Building. As previously reported in the announcement of his memorial service, Estabrook, age 69, died on the evening of Thursday, November 24, 2011 after a courageous battle with cancer.

Estabrook, who was a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts at the University of Michigan, was regularly seen riding his bicycle to work. He earned his bachelor of arts degree at Dartmouth College and his master of science degree at the University of Colorado Boulder. Estabrook joined U-M as an assistant research scientist in the University Herbarium in 1970 and was advanced to assistant professor of botany and research scientist in the Herbarium in 1976. He was promoted through the ranks to professor in 1982.

Estabrook’s research focused on the application of quantitative methods to test biological hypotheses. He was a leader in the application of mathematics to the discovery of phylogenetic relationships among groups of plants and animals, as well as in studying the the history, ecology, and ethnobotany of traditional agriculture in Portugal, publishing over 120 papers. Estabrook also just completed a book, "A Computational Approach to Statistical Arguments in Ecology and Evolution," based on his long-running graduate course on computational hypothesis testing. Estabrook was an active graduate student mentor, guiding 16 doctoral students to completion of their dissertations. He collaborated in published research with over 38 faculty and students.

He taught undergraduate courses in human nutrition and economic botany for many years, receiving an award for outstanding teaching in 1986. As many as 240 students enrolled for his popular human nutrition course.
Estabrook worked on and off in Portugal for the past 35 years, spoke fluent Portuguese and, more impressively, the rural mountain dialect. He did fieldwork on traditional agriculture in the very remote mountainous interior of the country for the past 20 years.

At Dartmouth, he played the trumpet in the marching band, in the tower during alumni reunions and as part of the pit orchestra for some musicals. He started playing the banjo during the early 1960s and took part in the early folk scene in New York City where he lived for the first couple of years out of college while he worked at the New York Botanical Gardens. He sang tenor with the Oratorio Society of New York and later took voice lessons for several years and sang with many groups in Ann Arbor (Ars Musica, Ann Arbor Cantata Singers, St. Andrew's Choir, Boychoir of Ann Arbor) mostly as a bass and sometimes as an alto. He spent a lot of time playing alto or tenor recorder as a part of a trio sonata group. Most recently, he played the autoharp for the amusement of his youngest children.

He ran track and played intermural ice hockey at Dartmouth where he led South Fairweather Hall to many dorm-wide victories, only to be beaten by the fraternity house jocks in the finals.

Later, Estabrook played soccer on an adult team in Ann Arbor, coached, and for several years was a FIFA certified referee for Ann Arbor Area Public Schools. He ran marathons for about a decade until back pain made the shorter running distances in triathlons a more attractive competitive sport. He was nationally ranked for his age class most years through 2007 when he was 65 years old.

He is survived by his wife, Virginia Hutton Estabrook, a former lecturer in the U-M Department of Anthropology and their children, Elizabeth and Peter, Ann Arbor; his former wife, Bronwen Gates, Ann Arbor, and their three children, Edward, Vancouver, B.C.; Ruth and her husband, Jeffrey Pierne, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Fred, Ypsilanti, Mich.