Barbara Pitschel. Photo by Margo Bors.
"One of a kind" is a stock phrase that can apply to almost anyone, but to some more emphatically than others. Then there's Barbara Pitschel, who is in a class by herself and could be the standard by which others vying for the phrase are judged.
Barbara died on August 3, two weeks after she was diagnosed with pneumonia and five days after she was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer.
Her work was most visible to the public as Head Librarian of San Francisco Botanical Garden's Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture (HCRL), where she disseminated information about gardening and native plants to an avid and knowledgeable public. In her 30-year tenure at the Garden, Barbara cultivated the library into the largest and most comprehensive horticultural library in northern California. She was also a long-standing member of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL), receiving the Charles Robert Long Award of Merit in 2006 for her outstanding dedication to CBHL and her many contributions to the field of horticultural literature and information service and research.
Barbara's most visible contribution to the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) was the chapter newsletter, which she and husband Roland--always Roland; everything she did was enabled by the quiet but powerful support of her husband--produced since 1995. She would take infinite pains to have each newsletter attractive, error-free, timely, of excellent quality, varied and balanced in content, interesting to readers, and educational. Her care in layout, design, and illustrations enhanced the attractiveness and readability of each issue. Her work as program co-chair led to well-attended programs appealing to a broad range of diverse interests. These popular meetings often attracted attendees from beyond CNPS membership. The programs were balanced and varied, with topics such as gardening, planting for wildlife, wildflowers, human uses of native plants, and scientific, historic, biographic, and geographic issues.
Barbara and Roland's long history in the field of ecological restoration in San Francisco began in 1972 when they became involved in Bernal Heights Park, which is now recognized as one of the city's significant natural areas. They helped in the successful effort to transfer this property, a remnant of the original landscape, from the Department of Public Works, where it was a candidate for development, to the Recreation and Park Department (RPD), where it will be preserved in perpetuity in a natural state. The transfer agreement stipulated that any maintenance work undertaken at this park would be only to restore it to a "pre-1825" condition. The Bernal Hilltop Project was the first ecological restoration project attempted in San Francisco and one of the earliest such efforts in California. She and Roland received the Trust for Public Land Award for 30 years of volunteer park stewardship. Barbara was also a member of the Special Libraries Association and was a charter member of the Society for Ecological Restoration.
A fuller appreciation of Barbara and Roland Pitschel can be found in the Spring 2007 issue of Fremontia regarding their becoming Fellows of the California Native Plant Society.
Barbara bequeathed her body to the UCSF whole body donation program for scientific research. She is survived by her daughter, Justine Abra Gorman; her granddaughters, Jennifer Eileen Medina and Julia Rose Gorman; and her great grandson, Ayden Anthony Medina. No formal memorial service is planned, but the family hopes to celebrate Barbara and Roland's lives sometime in the future.