Robert Brinsley Burbidge

After five long months in hospital and five tender days in ahospice, Robert Brinsley Burbidge died on May 20th, 2019 in Cambridgeshire, England. He was 75 years old. He is survived by his sisters Diana and Georgina and his nieces Alex, Emma and Sara; his first wife, Vicki Matthews and their nephews, Ben, Luke and Bash; and by his wife Julie Loquidis and his stepdaughters, Emily and Lulu.

Brinsley was the firstborn child of Ivor and Vera Burbidge in 1943 and became an older brother four years later with the birth of twin sisters. The strong bond formed between these siblings would prove to last a lifetime. Brinsley explored the natural world taking special interest in the hedgerow wild flowers and butterflies of Stamford, his home town. He set up a home-based photography studio and learned the power of understanding lenses. Brinsley performed well at Stamford School, which earned him a place at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Later, he attained a PhD (A study of the South African genus Tulbaghia)at theUniversity of Edinburgh and worked for theRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh overseeing exhibitions where his botanical knowledge and skills as a photographer were noted and appreciated. He and Vicki Matthews, also a botanist, were married at this time and bought their first home together in Edinburgh’s India Street.  While at RBGE, Brinsley joined an expedition to collect plants in Colombia and discovered he liked to travel and to interact with people from different cultures. Word of his botanical knowledge, creativity, and people skills was spreading and he accepted the position to head the Dept. of Information and Educationat the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. With a mutual passion for botanical illustration, Brinsley and Vicki would meet Dr Shirley Sherwood. A relationship formed which would result in Shirley building up one of the largest collections of botanical art in private hands and result in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew. Also during his tenure at Kew, Brinsley travelled to many countries for botanical research and to offer expertise. His travels to tropical places engendered a special interest in palms and when new leadership was required at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Florida after Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, Brinsley was appointed as Director to oversee operations there. Likewise, when fresh leadership was required at Denver Botanic Garden in Colorado, Brinsley took the helm and steered the Garden through a major renovation, new construction and a national conference. While working in Denver he met Julie Loquidis, a gardener, artist, and mother of Emily and Lulu who he would come to nurture as his own children. With a love of the tropics compelling him southwards again, Brinsley’s next move was to accept the position of Director of St. George Village Botanical Gardens in the US Virgin Islands. Brinsley, Julie, and Lulu (and frequent visitor Emily) instantly fell in love with St. Croix and they contributed full-heartedly to their island community. Brinsley and Julie were married on a boat before reporting to a shared position managing the landscape of a private island near St. Thomas.

One of the truly great passions in Brinsley’s life was photography: he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. He was a technical genius with a close-up lens and made many beautiful, abstract images by zooming in on patterns of leaves. He honed a sensitivity to landscape and developed a unique style that had all the hallmarks of a master. His dignified portraits of people demonstrated a respectful approach to getting to know his subjects. Brinsley loved people and people loved him.  

Soon after choosing Cottage Grove, Oregon as a place for retirement, Brinsley and Julie set up a photography and art business which they enjoyed very much. Eventually though, Brinsley began to feel the tug of home and wished to share his homeland with Julie. They had been back in England for only two years when Brinsley’s heart disease first made itself known. It was not the plan, but the families take consolation that as he wished, he is buried “in England, on a hillside with wild flowers and sunshine”.  A very beautiful hillside for a very beautiful person.