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In Memoriam: Stelian Radu

Stelian Radu
Stelian Radu © Ionut Radu

Stelian Radu was one of the members of the small group of acorn traders, formed in the 1980s, that would eventually become the IOS. He was a speaker at the first IOS Conference at the Morton and contributed several articles to International Oaks, mostly about oak forests in Europe and his native Romania, but also a charming article about oaks on postage stamps, using examples from his personal tree-themed stamp collection.

Stelian died December 21, 2018, having accomplished an impressive body of scientific research. Below is a tribute from Guy Sternberg and a translation of an obituary by Stelian’s son, Ionut, originally published in French in Naturalité, the newsletter of Forêts Sauvages.

I remember calling Stelian with my rotary-dial phone, using the trans-Atlantic cable, to recruit him as a speaker for our first Conference. We sold vendor booths to fund his airfare, and he stayed with Edie and me at Starhill Forest for several days after the conference. Then, the following year, he hosted us as only the second Americans to visit Western Transylvania following the death of the dictator Ceaușescu. We stayed at his home and traveled widely there and I have some great trees grown from oak seed found there.

He and I remained in contact ever since that 1994 Conference, exchanging letters and, later, e-mails several times each year. He was always moving full speed ahead with his career and his forest advocacy, speaking and publishing even long after he retired.

For the 2000 Conference hosted by Ron Lance in North Carolina, I presented (as the President at that time) our first two IOS Awards to founding members Dick van Hoey Smith and, in absentia, Stelian Radu. I tried later to persuade him to come to the 2012 Conference in France but his failing health did not permit the trip. He continued to write, but I never saw him again.

I was about to write to Stelian this spring when I heard this awful news of his passing. Dick had passed away several years ago, and now we have lost both of them. I am very sad.

Guy Sternberg

[The following text is translated from an article published in issue No. 20 of Naturalité, the newsletter of Forêts Sauvages.]

Stelian Radu was born on October 15, 1928 in the village of Ungureni in the municipality of Fântânele, Prahova County, Romania. His father was a farmer and winemaker, a former sergeant decorated during the First World War. He owned a farm consisting of some land inherited or received after the agricultural reform of 1921. Being the sixth of seven siblings, Stelian had a quiet childhood until he was six years old. His mother died at age 45 and Stelian and his younger brother Dumitru were cared for by Lica, their 16-year-old sister. After primary school Stelian attended high school, but when he was 11 his father died aged 55, leaving him in a difficult situation. In 1939, supported by his older brother Tanase, Stelian came to Bucharest and after the admission exam enrolled in the Gheorghe Sincai National College, a renowned institution with a long tradition. After high school (1939-1947) and the baccalaureate, the world changed: the territorial losses of Romania in 1940, the National Legionary State, the entry of Romania into the Second World War alongside Germany, the disaster of Stalingrad, and on August 23, 1944 the coup d’état that put Romania on the side of the allies.

In 1947, Stelian enrolled as a student at the Faculty of Forestry (attached to the Politehnica University of Bucharest), but after the 1948 education reform the Faculty was moved to Câmpulung Moldovenesc. After the second-year exams, he was offered the possibility of continuing his studies abroad, with a scholarship from the Romanian State, at the Saint-Petersburg (Leningrad) Forestry Academy. Founded in 1803, the Academy was renowned for teaching forestry. His graduation work involved the study of the natural regeneration process of beech and fir in the forest region of Solca (Moldavia region, Romania). He graduated as a forest engineer and received the recommendation to continue his activity in the field of scientific research.

At the beginning of 1955, after five months working in the forest region of Coșula (Botoșani, Moldavia), Stelian began a career in scientific research at the Forest Research Station, located in the Arboretum of Simeria. He stayed there until 1960, developing the collection of rare plants and participating in meetings with distinguished visitors such as Romanian professors A. Borza, N. Boscariu, V. Puscariu, or O. Schwarz from East Germany, an authority on European oaks. By intervening directly with the Prime Minister, Petru Groza, he managed to save the Arboretum, which was threatened by construction projects.

Stellian by Kremer
 Stelian Radu next to an oak in a Romanian forest, 1992 © Antoine Kremer

In the period 1963-1981, Stelian directed the research station of the Forestry Research Institute in Bucharest. In this role, he was part of the Romanian delegation at several meetings with scientists from Eastern European countries. In 1965, he received a scholarship from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization for the study of poplars and for that project he visited Turkey, Yugoslavia, Italy, and France. In the same year, he began a doctoral thesis on the study of the Weymouth pine (Pinus strobus), which he completed in 1974. He also wrote articles and conducted studies on breeding and genetic improvement, seed and vegetative propagation, and the management of nurseries or green spaces in towns and villages. At this time, he founded a family (his wife Aneta Almåsan, who has a background in sociology, his daughter Irina, and son Ionut). In 1981, he returned to Simeria where until 1991 he was responsible for research. This was a difficult period for Romanian forestry research, due to the austerity measures imposed at the time. But he did not give up writing and publishing articles on subjects such as the "five-needle pines" or the study of tree and shrub plantations in towns and villages.

The period 1991-1996 was a time of great upheavals and financial instability in Romanian society, characteristic of the process that would lead Romania towards democracy. In 1991, Stelian was appointed by the Forest Research Institute as director of the laboratory at Simeria. It was the period of opening to the West, with contacts and meetings with delegations and researchers from all over the world, in Simeria and also in the forests or in the Romanian nature reserves. He conducted research on the virgin and near-virgin forests of the Retezat National Park (1991-1993) and in 2003-2004 published a monograph of the Park in seven volumes. He wrote a monograph on "The Simeria Arboretum" in 2006 with C. Coandă, and collaborated in a book on "The Virgin and Quasi-Virgin Forests of Romania” coordinated by V. Giurgiu in 2013, which has been translated into French and which will be published in Belgium. He organized and guided the visit of specialists in the virgin forests and National Parks of Gemenele-Retezat, Izvoarele Nerei and Craiova, Grădiștea Muncelului-Cioclovina, Domogled-Valea Cernei and Semenic-Cheile Carasului. He took part in Chambéry, France in the 2004 symposium on dead wood and the 2008 symposium "Biodiversity, Nature, Humanity". As president of the Scientific Council of the Grădiștea Muncelului-Cioclovina National Park, he was actively involved in the strict conservation of secular oak forests located in the archaeological site of Sarmizegetusa Regia. He was a member of the International Oak Society and in 2000 received its Lifetime Service Award for his work.

He retired in 1997 but continued to write and participate in meetings with colleagues and forest specialists. In recognition of his scientific activity, Stelian was elected an honorary member of the Romanian Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences on November 25, 2012. For his 85th birthday, he received from the Academy the Diploma of Academic Merit for his remarkable contribution to Romanian forestry research. Following serious health problems in 2013, he decided to move to Spaichingen in Germany to live with his son. There, in the Swabian Alps, he continued to frequent the forest throughout the year. In 2018, he celebrated his 90th birthday in Deva and Bucharest with friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. On December 21, 2018, he died at ten o'clock in the evening, after a busy life and having accomplished an impressive body of work in scientific research.

Ionut Radu

trans.: Roderick Cameron