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James Barkley Pollock
LSA Minutes

James Barkley Pollock

James Barkley Pollock was born in Orangeville, Illinois, 10 November 1863, the son of Thomas Pollock, an Illinois pioneer who in 1840 settled as a homesteader in Buckeye Township, Stephenson County, and Elizabeth Van Meter, a descendant of John Van Meter 1st, of Berkeley, Virginia. His boyhood ambition for higher education originated with himself, and was not realized until ten years later than the usual age of entering college. When he finally broke away from the farm, it was to prepare for the University of Wisconsin in the high school department of the Illinois State Norma). University where, in 1891, he was a fellow student and friend of the late Dean John R. Effinger. He then entered the University of Wisconsin with advanced credit and graduated as B. S. in 1893. After a year of teaching in the High School at Austin, Illinois, he became Assistant in Botany at Michigan in 1895, but returned to the University of Wisconsin and took the degree M. S. in 1896. Again at the University of Michigan in 1897, he took the degree Sc. D. and then went abroad for a year of study under Professor Wilhelm Pfeffer, the famous plant physiologist, at the Lniversity of Leipzig.

The subsequent career of Doctor Pollock was that of gradual academic advancement at the University of Michiran. He was Instruc for from 1898-1906, Assistant Professor and. Associate Professor, 1906-1922, Exchange Professor and Research Professor at the University of Hawaii, 1922-1924, Professor 1925-1932, Professor Emeritus, 1932-1934. He had been, up to the time of his retirement, the devoted teacher of more college generations than any other member of the botanical staff. He always participated in the teaching of the large Freshman course (as it is a tradition in the Michigan department for the older members of the staff to do) and for many years had given a successful intermediate course that attracted many students, - his course on microbiology in its application to soils, water supplies, industrial processes, and sanitation. This course satisfied the need of many students for elementary training in the non-medical aspects of bacteriology, but also dealt largely with blue-green algae, molds, and yeasts, varying in content from year to year, according to the needs of the students and the changing interests of the instructor. It was Pollock's distinctive and highly valued contribution to the teaching strength of the department.

Professor Pollock's research interests were at first in physiology (his thesis was entitled "The Mechanism of Root Curvature" but gradually shifted, in accordance with the trend of his teaching, to studies of fungi and algae. It was an investigation of the blue-green algae of a little lake near Ann Arbor, where in 1918 he spent a vacation period with his family, that laid the foundation for his later research on the significance of algae in the formation of coral reefs.

He devoted several weeks to the study of the curious biscuit shaped calcareous concretions that are so largely instrumental in the deposition of marl at several localities in southern Michigan. These concretions are formed by blue-green algae and so long as the organisms that produce them are alive they have a coralloid appearance, and are very similar superficially to algal concretions that occur in the very oldest fossiliferous rocks. When the organisms die, some of the concretions in the shallower water are broker up by wave action and produce a structureless calcareous mud that settles in the deeper water and forms a matrix in which other unbroken concretions become embedded. This deposition of concretional marl is remarkably suggestive of the processes by which algae of red group, far higher in the evolutionary scale than the blue-greens, participate in the building of coral reef and coral sand deposits on tropical and subtropical sea coasts.

It was therefore with his mind prepared to work on coral-reef problems that Doctor Pollock went to the University of Hawaii as Exchange Professor, for 1922-1923. He remained in Honolulu a second year on sabbatical leave, as Research Professor at the University of Hawaii, and in these two years enjoyed the most productive part of his career.

A summary of his work on coral reefs was presented for him at the Third Pan-Pacific Science Congress at Tokyo in 1926 and published in the "Proceedings". This was followed by full publication-as a bulletin of the Bishop Museum of Honolulu, in 1928, and by further contributions, one of them on the origin of Pearl Harbor, the naval base near Honolulu, in which he presented his interpretation of the algal and coral deposits that had been exposed in excavations made for the storage of fuel oil. After Professor Herbert E. Gregory, Director of the Bishop Museum, had critically read and edited "Fringing and Fossil Coral Reefs of Oahu", he wrote to Dr. Pollock, "I consider the paper the most enlightening contribution to the geology of Oahu that has been made". Other students of coral-reef problems commented on this paper with equal enthusiasm.

In 1923 the U. S. Navy assigned the minesweepers, "Whippoorwill" and "Tanager", to the duty of conveying a scientific expedition to Johnston and Wake Islands, lying west of the Hawaiian group, the latter well toward Guam. The enterprise had the co-operation of the Bureau of Biological Survey, U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Bishop Museum of Honolulu. Dr. Pollock was appointed botanist, and readers of the "Michigan Alumnus" will remember his own interesting account of the expedition in that periodical. He found a most meager land flora, which included, however, a problematic species of Pisonia, on Wake Island, the study of which led him to attempt a systematic revision of all the Oceanic and Asiatic species of Pisonia. This work never reached publication because of a series of minor cerebral hemorrhages which began in 1928 and followed so closely as hardly to allow for recuperation to working strength in the intervals between. The strokes especially affected his vision and made critical observation of specimens painfully laborious and nerve racking, but he continued to go to the laboratory regularly until a few days before his death.

Among the outstanding traits of Professor Pollock's character were the courage and persistency that he so remarkably displayed during the last three years in the face of the overwhelming obstacle of physical disability. He had resolved to round out his career, after retirement from teaching, by completing the researches that he had in progress. His unswerving adherence to his program and his high scientific ideals were an inspiration to all who knew and appreciated his sterling worth.

He was not an active participant in the affairs of professional societies, with the single exception of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters. This, as a local enterprise, received his full cooperation and support for many years. He served as Secretary and Editor from 1901 to 1903 and was President in 1906-1907.

Doctor Pollock was married June 24, 1902 to Ida Belle Allen, daughter of John Allen, of Ann Arbor. She died October 24, 1906, and was the mother of Florence Allen Pollock, A. B. 1926, LL. D. 1928 (Michigan) of the Ann Arbor Bar. His second marriage, September 22, 1910, was to Rhoda Selleck, daughter of Henry Selleck, lawyer, of Bay City. She, and two daughters, Cathelia Elizabeth, A. B. Ed. 1932 (Michigan) and Nina Ruth, student in the School of Architecture, survive him. He died at Ann Arbor, June 29, 1934.

In the absence of the Unitarian pastor, the services at his funeral were conducted at the Unitarian Church by the Reverend Henry Tatlock of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, assisted by Professor John F. Shepard and the venerable Reverend J. T. Sunderland, who was pastor of the Unitarian Church in 1882 when the present building, endeared to the Pollock family by a lifetime of associations, was completed.

The basis of Doctor Pollock's adherence and loyalty to the Unitarian Church was expressed in the funeral address delivered by one of his colleagues. Of an essentially religious nature he felt that in Unitarianism he had found religious ideals to which a scientific man might subscribe without inconsistency. The keynote of his character was devotion to truth and the consistency of his life with what he believed.

B. M. Davis
John F. Shepard
H. H. Bartlett, Chairman