Canadian Federation of Biological Societes Tribute

Dick obtained his BSc and PhD from the University of Calgary and the University of Washington, respectively. Dick’s first serious encounter with “fish biology” was when he participated in a provincial fish survey exercise in southern Alberta. Following a short post-doctoral period in Bristol, England, he took up his academic appointment at the University of Alberta where he spent his entire career. He served two terms as Chair, Department of Zoology and two terms as Dean, Faculty of Science. At the time of his untimely death, he was Director, Bamfield Marine Sciences Center.

Dick was recognized, nationally and internationally, for his work on the neuroendocrine regulation of reproduction and growth in fish. The LINPE method of induction of spawning of agricultural fish with the OVAPRIM kit was one of the practical results of his research in this area. He pioneered the use of radiofrequency stereotaxic thermal brain lesions and intracerebral ventricular injection to study the physiological role of various hypothalamic nuclei, neuropeptides and neurotransmittors in the regulation of pituitary hormone secretion in fish. He also produced brain stereotaxic atlases for several fish species for such experimental purposes. His lab was also one of the first to develop and make use of the then new radioimmunoassay technology to measure fish pituitary hormone secretion in the 1970’s. In recognition of his significant work on fish reproductive physiology, he was awarded the NSERC Steacie Fellowship in 1980. For his contribution to this whole area of comparative endocrinology, he was awarded the Pickford Medal by the International Federation of Comparative Endocrinological Societies in 1985 (for seminal contribution to the field of comparative endocrinology by a young scientist under the age of 45). Dick was also known for his extensive work on the neuroendocrine regulation of feeding behaviour and food intake in fish, which combine the use of molecular biology, immunohistochemical studies, classical neuroendocrinological techniques and physiological manipulations, as well as behavioural observations. For his contribution to the field of fish endocrinology, a named lecture series (The R.E. Peter Lecture) was inaugurated at the 5th International Symposium on Fish Endocrinology in 2004 in Spain. These and many other awards, including membership in the Royal Society of Canada, attest to his world-recognized scientific contribution to the field of fish neuroendocrinology and comparative endocrinology.

Dick was not only a great scientist, but he was also a great mentor. Dick supervised with great patience, personal attention and allowance for personal scientific freedom. Yet one was always aware of the great expectation and standard of excellence that had to be achieved. With a combination of timely encouragements, discussions, appropriately placed deadlines (such as international meeting deadlines), he effectively moved everyone along at the appropriate speed towards successful completion of training. He trained over 20 graduate students, and at least 25 post-doctoral fellows and 9 visiting scientists from six continents and some 17 countries. The international nature of the group created a great atmosphere of international learning and collaboration, which is one of the hallmarks of Dick’s work, and also helped to promote subsequent successes in his trainees. Of the PhD graduates, all except for 2 (one MD and one businessman) are involved in science. Among them are 12 professorial academics, 1 former Dean, 1 former Chair of Department, 1CRC Chair, 1 scientific consultant and two government scientists (including a provincial deputy. minister of fisheries, India). Amazingly, with all his administrative duties at various levels in the last two decades, he continued to train postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and project students. Dick’s success in mentoring was recognized by a Best Mentoring Award from the University of Alberta a few years back.

Another feature of Dick’s mentoring was that one not only moved from being a trainee to a scientific colleague during the process, but one also became a genuinely good friend of him and his family. Dick provided continual material support in terms of hormone standards, antibody preparations and duplicate equipments, as well as advice to his former trainees when needed. His graduates and post-doctoral fellows think of Dick as part of their family, and in turn, Dick and his wife Leona viewed them as part of the extended Peter family. The pot-luck gatherings at Dick’s home were all memorable and his lab Christmas parties with the friendly visit by one jolly red-suited fellow (who often had the same profile as Dick) were famous among the young and old alike.

In addition to scientific research contribution and mentoring, Dick also contributed to the advancement of comparative endocrinology and neuroendocrinology in many other ways. For example, Dick was one of the initiators (founders) who organized the different national and regional comparative endocrinology societies into the International Federation of Comparative Endocrinology Societies, in which he had served as president. He also founded the International Symposium on Fish Endocrinology quadrennial meeting series, which started with its first meeting in Edmonton in 1988. These and other scientific contributions, as well as his services on MRC and NSERC grant selection committees and editorial boards of several journals, all served to advance the life sciences in Canada and help to establish the international reputation of Canada as a strong country in comparative endocrinology, neuroendocrinology and fish physiology.

Besides excelling in science and research, Dick also had a great appreciation and knowledge of fine wine, food, art, ceramics and music. Dick will always be fondly remembered by his many associates, colleagues and friends as a true gentleman. His cheery smile and characteristic (and infectious) laugh will be missed.