From Plant Press, Vol. 20, No. 1, January 2017.
By Deborah Bell
On a cold morning in February 1975, I walk into the office of the Department of Botany Chairman, Edward Ayensu, to begin my first day of work at the U.S. National Herbarium. Ten minutes later, another new technician enters; George Frederick Russell III, aka Rusty. This is one of the few days that I arrive to work before he does during the following 40 years. He is an early bird, and on more than one occasion has shared sunrise pics taken while walking from Union Station or shot from his office window. Rusty was a University of Maryland ‘Old Boys’ rugby player back then, and came into work on Mondays, scraped, bruised, wrapped, and sometimes limping. Four years later, Rusty became Collections Manager and my boss.
We grew up together in the Herbarium. It’s hard to imagine the Botany Department went from carbon paper to Xerox machines, and from typing and retyping manuscripts to word processing. Rusty was one of the first to embrace computers and new technology. When bar codes and scanning appeared in grocery stores, Rusty walked into the office one morning and asked, “What do you think about putting bar codes on specimens, with all the associated collection data attached?” Brilliant! Others thought so too. This pioneered the use of bar codes in museums worldwide.
Over 30 years ago, Rusty organized in the Botany Department the first formal intern program in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) specifically dedicated to collections projects. That morphed into the NMNH Intern Program overseen by others. Since that time, he has personally supervised over 280 high school and college interns. He never asked interns to do what he described as ‘numb-numb’ work, but always assigned meaningful tasks to learn something new and worthwhile to enhance our collections and information.