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H. Bruce Rinker III, Ph.D. : In Memoriam

Bruce Rinker III, Ph.D., scientist, veteran science educator, conservationist, and explorer, passed to the Beyond on Sunday, January 7, 2024, at King’s Daughters Health and Rehabilitation Center in Staunton, after a protracted (7+ years) bout with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) brain cancer. He was surrounded by close family and friends.

Bruce, as he was known to his close family and friends, was born on May 17, 1955, in Winchester, VA, where he graduated from James Woods High School. He received a B.S. in Forestry and Wildlife Resources, with a minor in Biology, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg VA in 1979. Bruce completed his Ph.D. in Environmental Studies, with a focus on Forest Ecology, with Antioch University New England in 2004. He conducted his doctoral fieldwork in the lush forests of Puerto Rico in a study that linked insect activity in the treetops and in the soils below identifying a connection between the two that is essential for nutrient cycling and overall forest health.

Throughout his career, Bruce held positions as Science Department Chair at Millbrook School in Millbrook, NY, Director of Research and Conservation at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, FL, Director of Pinellas County Environmental Lands Division in Tarpon Springs, FL, Science Department Chair at North Cross School in Roanoke, VA, Director of Scientific Advancement and Development at the Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland, ME, and as Executive Director of Valley Conservation Council in Staunton, VA. Bruce also served as adjunct professor (on-line) in the Tourism and Hospitality Program with the University of Southern Maine, and as an instructor for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute with the University of Virginia.

As a forest canopy ecologist, Bruce conducted scientific investigations from canopy walkways, dirigible balloons, towers, and climbing ropes. Throughout his career, Bruce studied what is termed the “High Frontier” in the Americas, the Caribbean, and Old-World tropics. Bruce contributed to the global scientific community’s effort to locate previously undiscovered species and ecological processes present only in the upper realms of the world’s forests. Dr. Rinker was part of a team of scientists in Cameroon that identified and documented two unknown species: one a spider and the other an ant. He also oversaw the creation of a canopy walkway in New York State’s mid-Hudson Valley and assisted with a similar construction project at Myakka State Park near Sarasota, FL.

As a researcher and explorer, Dr. Rinker led numerous expeditions into the Amazon Rain Forest and to the Galapagos Islands, often with his students and his professional colleagues. He conducted regular fieldwork in some of the world’s great tropical rain forests-including those of Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, French Guyana, Cameroon, and Australia.  As an educator, Bruce often led student trips during intersession week or spring break to exotic places related to his field of interest and research.

Dr. Rinker authored or edited over 140 scientific and popular articles and books. He was coeditor of Forest Canopies (Elsevier Press, 2004), and of Gaia in Turmoil – Climate Change, Bio-depletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis (MIT Press, 2010).  He was the author of A Pearl in the Brain – The Cancer Journey of a Scientist in his Search for the Seat of the Soul (Koehler Books, 2019). Bruce had a role in eight films, delivered over 40 notable public lectures and presentations, and was a reviewer for twelve societies and publications, including the National Geographic Society and the Ecological Society of America.

Dr. Rinker was a National Fellow of The Explorers Club, a National Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the Switzer Environmental Foundation. He was a member of the Ecological Society and of the National Association of Environmental Professionals, and was certified as a Senior Ecologist by the Ecological Society of America.

As a result of his international perambulations, Bruce became a devotee of traditional cultures, arts, and ancient traditions, especially those of Latin America and the Middle East. Bruce served on a number of science advisory boards at home and abroad such as Amazon Conservatory of Tropical Studies (Peru); Naturalia, (Mexico); (Mexico); Department of Tourism and Hospitality (University of Southern Maine, Portland); Master Plan Advisory Committee (Natural Bridge, VA); Biodiversity Research Institute (Portland, ME); and Center for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (Antioch University Graduate School, Keene, NH).

Bruce’s indefatigable curiosity and standards for excellence grew out of his abiding respect for the English naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin (1809-1882), whom he viewed as his intellectual hero. Furthermore, his philosophy on environmentalism was greatly influenced by the work of renowned American ecologist Aldo Leopold (1887-1948). Bruce was also devoted to the esteemed tradition of collecting, reporting on, and displaying oddities from around the world, and founded his own private “Curiosity Society” among his close friends and colleagues.

Bruce was deeply committed to his beloved Roman Catholic faith, in which he found much intellectual stimulation, starting in his youth during his time as a Franciscan friar. Bruce sought inspiration for the nexus of faith and science in the teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ (1881-1955), a Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and who believed in a fundamental compatibility between Christianity and evolutionary biology. Bruce’s spiritual rituals also included aspects of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and shamanistic practices.

Perhaps Bruce’s greatest legacy is that of his buoyant spirit, zest for living, and spark of passion for “all things natural, wild, and free.” These will remain an inspiration to all who knew him and all whom he touched through his many contributions to the worlds of education and scientific research, all in the pursuit of meaningful intercultural communion.

Harry Bruce Rinker III was preceded in death by his parents, Harry Bruce, Jr. and Ruth Delores Bayliss Rinker of Winchester; He is survived by his sisters, Diane Jean Rinker Ritenour and her husband, Jeff, of Capon Bridge, WV, and Donna Lee Rinker Gleaton and her husband, Gary, of Winchester, and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins, including Sherry Artz, Pam & Jeff Webber, and Debbie, Tim, and Hunter Sandy.

Bruce’s colleagues, friends, and family are invited to gather for a Celebration of His Life on Saturday, February 03, 2024, from 2-4pm at Henry Funeral Home Chapel, 1030 W. Beverley Street, Staunton, VA 24401 (across from Staunton’s historic Thornrose Cemetery).

A Celebration Mass of Transformation will be offered at the First Presbyterian Church’s Boyd Chapel, on Winchester’s downtown Mall, at 116 S. Loudoun Street, Winchester, VA, on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, at 1pm. Fr. James Orthmann, OCSO, will officiate at the Mass, as well as at Bruce’s interment immediately following (at approximately. 2pm), in Winchester’s historic Mount Hebron Cemetery, at 305 E. Boscawen Street, Winchester, VA.

Gifts may be made in memory of Dr. H. Bruce Rinker III to The Abbey of the Holy Cross (901 Cool Spring Lane, Berryville, VA 22611); The Handley Regional Library (P.O. Box 58, Winchester, VA 22604); and the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (901 Amherst Street, Winchester, VA 22601).

Gifts may also match Bruce’s own bequest to the Brain Tumor Research Lab of Dr. Benjamin W. Purow, at the University of Virginia’s Emily Couric Cancer Center, (1240 Lee Street, Charlottesville, VA 22903).

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