Nature 12

Paul Anthony Keddy

December 26, 2023

Paul Keddy Obituary

 

 

 

Paul Anthony Keddy 1953-2023


Paul was a well-known Canadian conservationist, an experienced professor, scientist, author, and
husband to Cathy Keddy.
Paul Keddy was born in 1953 in London Ontario. His father Norm Cyril Keddy was a farm boy from Nova
Scotia who had enlisted in the air force and repaired bombers in the Second World War; his mother
Dorothy Jean Keddy was an English war bride. Times were difficult. The story is that Paul’s father wanted
a new car and his mother wanted a baby. Apparently, Jean won. Much to Jean's annoyance, Norm re-
enlisted and within a few months Paul was whisked away to a trailer park on a NATO air base in France,
RCAF Station Grostenquin.
Norm was then transferred to Edmonton, with his family. Paul started school there, and was soon
"accelerated", completing two grades per year. The family was then transferred to Portage La Prairie in
Manitoba where Paul started doing science fair projects and watched frogs and salamanders. Paul was
also active in the boy scouts and earned a merit badge for stamp collecting. His parents arranged for
boxes of books from a nearby university to be delivered to help enrich his reading. Paul also began his
activities in conservation, bravely starting a petition against the seal hunt.
After a few years in Portage La Prairie, Norm was then posted to Ottawa. Paul spent one year in
Woodroffe High School before his parents bought a rural lot on Glen Isle near Carleton Place, allowing
Paul to complete grades 9 to 12 in Carleton Place High School. He made good friends, but he also
enjoyed solo exploration, being particularly keen on paddling the Mississippi River in an unwieldy
plywood "canoe" his father had built for him, likely from plans in Scientific American. Paul became
better acquainted with wild turtles.
At this time there was still a good population of Musk Turtles on the north side of Glen Isle. Paul rescued
turtle nests and did his best to hatch them and re-release them. At that time, people were moving to the
country and then complaining that nesting turtles were ruining their lawns and bothering their dogs. For
several years, Paul won science fair prizes with projects on turtles, even going to the national finals
which gave him the opportunity to meet other young people who appreciated science. Paul also had a
newspaper column on conservation in the local newspaper, The Carleton Place Canadian. Paul began
corresponding with a wide array of friends, including Bruce McBride, who was able to provide many
useful instructions about science and herpetology.
Eager to move ahead with his education, Paul arranged to skip Grade 13 (which no longer exists) and
enter York University a year early. One entry condition was that he teach himself calculus over the
summer. University calculus was really demanding, and the curriculum was heavily weighted toward
physics and chemistry. His was one of the last generations to learn how to use a slide rule for
calculations.
At the end of his first year at York, Paul headed north to begin summer employment as a seasonal
naturalist at the Algonquin Park Museum. There he and his fellow naturalists led natural history hikes,
gave evening slide programs, and answered questions posed by tourists visiting the museum. Paul

worked there again during the summers of 1972 and 1973. It was in the latter year, while assisting
Daniel Brunton in conducting botanical surveys, that Paul collected a frond of a “different looking” fern,
one evening at Greenleaf Lake. Little did he know at the time that it was a lone specimen and a new
hybrid wood fern. Paul was one of four authors of a 1975 paper introducing Dryopteris X algonquinensis,
the Algonquin Wood Fern, to the world.
In his later years, Paul commented that working in those three summers with that dedicated skilled
group of naturalists – some of whom became life-long friends -- changed his life.
During his early years at York, the center of his social life was Jane in Newmarket, with whom he had
been corresponding since meeting her at a young writers' workshop of some sort. He frequently took
the bus or hitch-hiked from York to her mother's home, where he was warmly welcomed and treated
like family. In second year he had a car, and could drive to Newmarket every weekend -- and mostly did.
Except when the drive shaft fell out at an intersection in downtown Toronto!
Jane actually came to York, which seemed like a good thing to Paul, but unfortunately, she ended their
relationship shortly after arriving. That made his third year on campus very difficult, but midway through
that year he had a chance meeting with Cathy Pointing at the University of Toronto. The story of their
meeting and his question about her knowledge of botany is a family legend and explained in her
obituary (https://www.barkerfh.com/obituary/Catherine-Keddy). Soon thereafter they were
inseparable. Homework was done, and many happy botany excursions occurred. They also enjoyed
some plays, and a memorable dinner at a small restaurant called "Meat and Potatoes". He proposed and
asked her to accompany him to Halifax where he had a scholarship to study with the legendary E.C.
Pielou, a well-known mathematical ecologist at Dalhousie. Paul and Cathy were married in Mississauga
in 1976.
Pielou, alas, was also legendary for her rudeness and bullying. Paul stuck it out; another student, a
Vietnam war veteran quit, and wrote the university president to say that she had treated him worse
than he was treated in the U.S. military. Still, Paul and Cathy explored Nova Scotia from top to bottom
(Cape North to Brier Island). Together they researched and successfully lobbied for the establishment of
reserves protecting nationally significant landscapes in southwest Nova Scotia during their residence
there, which likely were the first components of the provincial nature reserve system there. In their
spare time, they organized The Halifax Field Naturalists. Paul was the founding president.
Paul's doctoral research was highly regarded work in plant population ecology, mostly conducted at
Martinique Beach. Paul realized that this research may have been rigorous and original, but it had little
relevance to solving the environmental problems that then plagued Nova Scotia. He spent many hours
trying to reconcile the need for rigorous science with the need for conservation action. His last two
books, both published in 2023, illustrate how a solid scientific foundation is the very essence of
responsible, effective conservation, involving selection of whole self-sustaining natural habitats
supporting rich biodiversity representation rather than individually “protected” natural components,
regardless of their superficial aesthetic appeal.
While at Dalhousie, Paul was hired to become a young professor at the University of Guelph. Most
people have to complete post graduate work first, but Paul was hired straight out of graduate school.

Those early years were difficult because Paul was trying to move from being a plant population ecologist
toward an unknown future in community ecology of wetlands. Paul’s direct and uncompromising
presentation style got him into conflict with some faculty members with close links between the
agriculture faculty and Dow Chemical. Paul ultimately decided to further pursue his career at the
University of Ottawa.
As the first ecologist at the University of Ottawa, he achieved an early political victory by helping make
ecology a required course for all biology majors, a decision strongly fought by the animal physiologists.
Now that same department has multiple ecologists on staff. In addition to his teaching and research at
the university, he hiked and canoed through many parts of Ontario. During this time, Paul and Cathy had
two children. Martin Keddy (1984) and Ian Keddy (1988).
Paul’s office and lab at the university were rooms tucked away in a building more or less abandoned
when the medical faculty were moved to newer buildings. Extensive renovations in the north half of his
building allowed a steady flow of fumes and dust into his office. He sometimes wondered if this was
partly responsible for a terrible illness he suffered in the early 1990s, including pericarditis and
neurological disorders.
Due to his illness, he spent several years on retreat, occasionally teaching at the University of Ottawa.
During this time, he and Cathy still managed to gather the finances to buy some abandoned farmland on
the Canadian Shield in the Ottawa Valley. Here they built a home and raised their two children. Based
upon his practice of Buddhist meditation, he also wrote If I Should Die Before You Wake: Instructions on
the Art of Life. It was adapted for the general public in 1997 and in 2018 it was updated and published
by Sumeru Press. Originally the book was written for his infant sons, as he wasn’t sure he would survive
his illness to be present in his children’s lives.
Thankfully he was able to partially recover from his severe illness, albeit it being left with a permanent
chronic fatigue syndrome. In 1999, partly due to a lack of support from the University of Ottawa, Paul
and Cathy made the difficult decision to uproot the family and move to Louisiana, when Paul accepted
an offer to become the first holder of the Schlieder Endowed Chair for Environmental Studies at
Southeastern Louisiana University. This chair provided resources that allowed him to continue research
and teaching in spite of chronic illness, while also affording Cathy more time to take care of their now
teenage children.
Louisiana is heaven on earth for biologists, like Paul, with a subtropical climate, extensive cypress
swamps, a rich amphibian and reptile fauna, and threatened pitcher plant savannas amidst longleaf pine
forests. Here he worked on both the theory and practice of coastal restoration in Louisiana, as well as
supervising research on species-rich pine savannas inland. He supervised the construction of the world’s
largest competition experiment on campus, and, at the field station, helped design Turtle Cove
Experimental Marsh.
He even wrote about the then novel idea that alligators play a key role in protecting coastal wetlands
from grazing by herbivores. He and Cathy survived both hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and managed to
avoid being bitten by snakes or alligators! Unfortunately, the university there did not seem committed
to tackling serious environmental issues and by 2007, with both children having left the roost, it seemed

time for Paul and Cathy to return to the forests of Canada, and for Paul to become an Independent
Researcher.
Since returning to Canada Paul has focused on multiple projects, including many scientific publications
and text books, including a major revision to his Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation for
Cambridge University Press and new edition of Plant Ecology, (both with much appreciated assistance
from Cathy). He also has lectured on principles of science and their applications in Madrid, Granada,
Lyon, and Hildesheim and locally in Almonte, Perth, Ottawa, and Arnprior. If you’d like to learn more
about his accomplishments over the last decade and a half, visit his website at drpaulkeddy.com/news
Paul was a professor of ecology for over 30 years, and published over 100 scholarly papers and six
books. He was designated a Highly Cited Researcher (ISIHighlyCited.com). In 2007 he was awarded the
Merit Prize by the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the National Wetlands Award for Science Research
by the Environmental Law Institute. In 2017 he also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the
Society of Wetland Scientists and in 2018 he received the Meritorious Service Medal of Canada for his
contributions to natural area conservation.
Unfortunately, after losing his wife, Cathy, in 2022, and battling chronic pain and health issues for much
of 2023, Paul peacefully passed away at his home on December 26 th , 2023. He will be fondly
remembered and missed by family and his countless friends and fellow environmentalists.
Given Paul’s years of dedication to ecology and protecting wild places, the family suggests that
donations to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT) in his name would be an appropriate way to
celebrate Paul’s life and continue his passion of protecting important pieces of nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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