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University of Hawaii botanist who died of coronavirus ‘will be sorely missed’

  • COURTESY ALICE CAMPBELL
                                Art Whistler appears in a photo with his girlfriend Alice Campbell in February.

    COURTESY ALICE CAMPBELL

    Art Whistler appears in a photo with his girlfriend Alice Campbell in February.

The president of the University of Hawaii said today the school is mourning the death of Art Whistler — a popular botanist, author, and adjunct faculty member at the university — who died this week from the coronavirus.

Whistler was one of the state’s four deaths from COVID-19.

UH President David Lassner said in a statement that Whistler “will be sorely missed.”

“Art was well-known and beloved by many at UH as well as by the botany and conservation communities across Hawaiʻi and the Pacific,” Lassner said. “He was a scientist, naturalist and educator who touched the lives of students, colleagues and communities throughout the Pacific.”

Whistler specialized in the tropical plants of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

After earning degrees in California, Whistler served in the Peace Corps in Samoa, then moved to Hawaii where he earned his PhD in botany from UH Manoa in 1979, while focusing his research on the vegetation of Samoa, Lassner said.

At UH, he was a lecturer and adjunct faculty member in botany. He also held a postdoc appointment at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai and was a research affiliate at the Bishop Museum.

Through his consulting company Isle Botanica, Whistler worked on botanical projects across the Pacific Islands, including Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and the Northern Marianas.

He also wrote numerous scientific articles and books on plants of the Pacific Islands, including “Polynesian Herbal Medicine,” “Tongan Herbal Medicine,” and “Flowers of the Pacific Island Seashore.”

Lassner said it appeared Whistler contracted the virus while on a recent trip to Washington state and was hospitalized in Hawaii after his return.

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