MSSF Mourns Harry Thiers

by
Copyright 2000, all rights reserved.

In the early morning of August 8th, Dr. Harry D. Thiers died in his sleep of cardio-pulmonary failure at the age of 81. He was in Ohio with his wife Ellen, visiting his daughter Barbara and son-in-law Roy Halling, whose granddaughter Mary was attending an ice-skating camp. Harry spent the day of August 7th in an activity that defined so much of his life: collecting and studying mushrooms with friends and family.

Harry's death is a great loss for the MSSF. As our scientific adviser for 30 years, he trained many notable MSSF mycologists, including MykoWeb founder Mike Wood, Bay Area Fungi writer Fred Stevens, and the late Herb Saylor, an expert on hypogeous fungi. As a researcher and author, he wrote many of the standard works on California fungi, including a definitive book on boletes and a series of monographs entitled The Agaricales of California that culminated in the 1997 release of his monograph on the genus Russula. As a teacher, he taught many of today's leading professional mycologists, including our current scientific advisor Dr. Dennis Desjardin.

Harry was born a Texan on January 22, 1919 in Fort McKavett. He remained in Texas to earn his B.A. (1941) and M.A. degrees (1947) at the University of Texas, interrupted by a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1956, he earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan as a student of the pre-eminent American mycologist Alexander Smith, writing his doctoral dissertation on the Agaricales of the pine belt of eastern Texas. It was then back to Texas where Harry continued as a faculty member at Texas A&M University for a total of 12 years.

1959 brought Harry to California and to San Francisco State University, where he would spend the next 30 years teaching biology and mycology, and where he entered the lives of MSSF members as our scientific adviser. While at SFSU, he served as major professor for 35 Master's degree students (SFSU doesn't offer doctorates), 19 of whom went on to get their Ph.D. degrees and take up positions at leading universities and research labs throughout the world. After his retirement in 1989 he continued to run the herbarium at SFSU until he and Ellen moved to Peoria, Illinois in 1994 to be near family.

Harry's research in California, North America, and in trips abroad led to his publication of over 150 new species of fungi, to eight published books, to 50 papers in leading scientific journals, and to many articles for lay journals. He was recognized worldwide as the leading authority on boletes and as an innovator in secotioid fungi research. His extensive collections throughout the state of California became the basis of the Harry D. Thiers Herbarium at SFSU, named in his honor, now containing over 100,000 specimens, over half of them collected by Harry. It is the largest and most important collection of fleshy fungi west of the Mississippi.

Harry's work as a researcher and teach has garnished more awards than we can list here; they include Distinguished Mycologist from the Mycological Society of America, and the Fellows Medal from the California Academy of Sciences, its highest award and the first ever presented to a mycologist. He was also honored by fourteen different taxa named after him, including the genus Thiersia.

Most of us remember Harry as an inspired advisor, working through specimen IDs at the Fungus Fair, lecturing at our monthly meetings, holding workshops, and leading forays. We can picture him walking along a forest trail, often accompanied by his wife Ellen, stopping to pluck a mushroom from the ground, patiently explaining the inevitably fascinating story behind it. Harry suffered endless questions both foolish and wise for his great delight in revealing the lovely intricacies of the kingdom Fungi, and we're all the better for it.

Harry leaves behind his wife and companion of many years, Ellen; a daughter, Barbara; and a grand-daughter, Mary. We extend to them our condolences and mark with great sadness the passing of a wise and compassionate voice from this world.

— (First published September 2000 in the Mycena News, the newsletter of the Mycological Society of San Francsico.)