I have been associated with Alistair for 40 years from when he arrived to his retirement, and along the way came to know him and his family well. I thought it would be fun to recount some episodes he may or may not remember – but I do!
As a student with Carl Walters he was more into modeling but not averse to the odd field trip. One such was a trip in September 1982 organized by Ray Hilborn (then a post-doc but presently a Professor at the School of Fisheries in UW, Seattle) to see the Adams River spawning of sockeye salmon north of Kamloops. Ray asked me, although knowing nothing about fish, to come along and help. It was over a weekend with one night in Kamloops. We duly saw the fish spawn, were suitably impressed, and then returned to Kamloops for the night. There were about 15 or 20 students, one being Alistair. They all headed for the local pub, a vast hall of a place, and asked me to join them later since I was with Cas Lindsey, Director of the Institute. When I arrived they were all seated around one long table, there was lots of noise and some other patrons clearly had a skinful. One of these was a huge man, indeed a giant, called “Moose” by those who knew him, with his diminutive girlfriend. Moose was troubled – he was worked up about something and his desperate partner was forlornly trying to calm him down as he began shouting. Furniture began to move, busboys were no match at restraining him. Alistair got up, walked over to the standing if unsteady Moose – and looked down on him. Then very quietly, very calmly Alistair started talking about things, anything, life. Moose was mesmerized. He was so taken with Alistair that he happily followed Alistair out of the building and agreed to be led home by his grateful partner. The pub was so relieved they stood him a drink.
For some 20 years the Institute had a picnic BBQ at the beginning of term in September. In the early days it was at Locarno beach. One of the activities, organized by Ray Hilborn, was the egg toss competition where pairs throw a raw egg back and forth, taking a step back each time until the egg breaks. Alistair approached Carl Walters and asked him if he would pair with him but Carl declined until Alistair mentioned he had a hardboiled egg. Carl, thinking that this would be a great caper, agreed, giggling. One by one the pairs dropped out until only Carl and Alistair were left – far enough apart they had to throw overarm. At this point Alistair launched the egg like a missile at the unsuspecting Carl, who dropped it. The egg failed to break. Ray Hilborn yelled “he cheated, he cheated”. There were still several raw eggs in the trays and the company pelted a rather sheepish looking Carl. To quote Alistair “that is how I got everyone to throw eggs at my supervisor without him minding”. Touché.
It was around the year 2000 and high-end desktop computers were the machines of the moment. On campus there was an abundance of them and they were the target of a spate of burglaries. The huts, made of plywood, were easy targets, entering by doors and windows was a breeze, through the wall not much harder. The Zoology Computing Unit, overseen by Alistair, was at one end of Hut B6. Leanna Warman, at that time my student, had an office in Hut B8 overlooking B6. One night her computer was stolen via the window. We replaced the computer. It was common knowledge that thieves had a habit of returning a week later to obtain the new computer. Alistair, who anticipated that his precious machines were next in the queue, decided to ambush the crims. He and a comrade, ex-army, decide to wait up all night on top of B6 on the side overlooking Leanna’s office in B8. It was a flat roof with a 2 ft high parapet around it. So when they lay down they could not be seen but equally they had to peer over the side to see anything. Well, they saw nothing, no intruders. Sadly, on the other side of B6 was Hut B3, which they were not observing – and the crims busily helped themselves to those computers instead, while Alistair and Co. were looking the other way, much to their embarrassment. But they did have visitors later in the form of Campus Security. When they heard what Alistair was up to they were not pleased – not to put too fine a point on it they went ballistic. Curiously, there were no further break-ins – word had got out. Hell hath no fury than Alistair deprived!
It was January 1990 and I had just taken on Simon Mduma from Tanzania as a student to do an MSc., and later a PhD. He went on to run my program in Tanzania (and still does) and became Director of Wildlife for the Tanzanian Government. But in 1990 he arrived never having seen a TV let alone a computer. I asked Alistair if he would teach Simon the basics of using a computer. Simon is a gentle soul, quiet spoken and very polite. Alistair took an immediate liking to him and decided to show him around, and together with other students show him the ways of Canadians. Simon recounted this story years later. Over the next six months Simon was exposed to many things. He was taken around to see the sights. He was taken skiing up Grouse Mountain – not much skiing, more like a seated glissade. Simon managed that if cold. But then things took a turn for the more difficult. They took him to a nightclub, a first for him. Simon could not swim. When Alistair decided Simon should have the experience of a sea kayak Simon put his foot down – no he could not do that. But to no avail, Alistair persisted, saying that he had invented a special airbag (done in my garage I believe) that turned a kayak upright if overturned, and proceeded to demonstrate it. Needless to say this merely convinced Simon he was about to drown. Alistair and Simon went for a trip around English Bay. Later Alistair asked him what he thought of it. Simon said he did not see much, he had kept his eyes closed the whole way. As Simon recounted to me, a phone call from Alistair presaged the next hair raising adventure.
But Simon got his revenge a decade or so later. It was March 2005 and Alistair, Leanna, and two others made a trip to Serengeti to see Simon and myself. They camped in my front yard in the middle of Serengeti. We took them on a special trip to climb a hill that no tourists were allowed to do. Indeed very few biologists had been there. We hiked up the steep sides, recording on the way a rare rock rabbit – the first sighting for Tanzania – to the flat top. We looked back at our vehicle far below. Not far away we saw a pride of lions, 6 or 7 of them, small dots at this distance. They got up and walked to some small rocks near the vehicle and disappeared. We walked around the top for a while then descended again, Simon and I in front, Alistair and the others just behind. Our route took us towards the rocks, Simon walking steadily, and as we got closer it became noticeable that Alistair was lagging behind. Come on Alistair, Simon called, what’s the problem - and marched on. We got to the rocks, nothing was to be seen. Oh, they must be hiding somewhere, said Simon helpfully, what’s the matter Alistair? We made it back to the vehicle, Simon with a grin.
Alistair has a heart of gold – and so does Leanna. Need I say more.
By Tony Sinclair