I first met Les Mehrhoff almost 25 years ago, when I interviewed for my current job at the University of Connecticut. He and Greg Andeson picked me up for breakfast one morning. We talked about plant systematics
over eggs and bacon at Friendly's. I remember thinking to myself at the time, "Wow! This guy has an incredible knowledge of natural history. There aren't many people like him." After I got to UConn
I soon learned that I was wrong. There wasn't anyone
Writing that last sentence about Les in the past tense was hard. I learned yesterday that Les suffered from a massive, fatal heart attack Wednesday night. Now the world doesn't have anyone like him, and I have lost a friend and colleague.
Les wasn't just a remarkable natural historian, though he was that. He didn't just know the flora of New England down to every variety, subspecies, forma, and synonym, though he knew all of that. He seemed to know every individual plant (and frog and salamander and mushroom and bird) in New England, and he didn't just know them as acquaintances. They were all his close friends. He cared passionately about them, and he devoted his life to protecting them.
Over the last 25 years, I got to know Les pretty well, first as the chief botanist for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protecton, then as a collections manager for the biological collections in my department, then as the energy and life force behind the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England
In all of these roles Les worked tirelessly to ensure that New England's natural heritage is protected for generations to come, and he did so with generosity, humility, and good humor.
When Les was at DEP his focus was on protection of rare and endangered plants. Because he knew I was interested in plant conservation, he got me involved with the Science and Stewardship Committee of the Connecticut Chapter of The Nature Conservancy
. But he didn't stop there. He also recruited me to become an early part of the New England Plant Conservation Program
, and he encouraged me to form the (now defunct) Connecticut Biodiversity Forum. His enthusiasm and passion were so infectious that when he asked you to do something, you couldn't turn him down.
In recent years, Les' passion has been directed at reducing the spread and impact of invasive exotic plants. In addition to his involvement with IPANE, he was a founding member of the Connecituct Invasive Plants Council
and he provided expert advice on invasive plants to programs throughout the United States.
The world is a better place for all that Les did. And those of us who knew him have lost a wonderful friend and colleague.