Paul J. Harrison

Raised so far


Paul J. Harrison was a humble man and a mentor to many. His love of learning, spending time in nature, travel, and adventure shone through in both his academic career and personal life. He was a Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, an outstanding international scientist, and a tremendous supporter of his academic colleagues.

Paul and his sister Joan grew up on an idyllic 300-acre farm near Uxbridge, Ontario, where he attended a one-room school. He entered high school at age 12 and upon graduation pursued a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Toronto. It was there that he met his lifelong companion, Victoria Harman. They both had a zest for travel, so after three months of marriage they headed to Ghana on a two-year teaching contract with CUSO. Whenever they got the chance they traveled throughout West and East Africa, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and navigating the southern Nile River. It was in Ghana, living near the ocean, that Paul decided to pursue a PhD in Biological Oceanography at the University of Washington.

After completing his PhD and climbing all the major mountain peaks in the state of Washington, Paul became a professor in oceanography at the University of British Columbia. He soon built an internationally recognized program in Biological Oceanography, which trained 45 graduate students, 15 postdoctoral scholars and countless undergraduates, many of whom went on to be leaders in academia, government and industry. He published over 300 refereed scientific papers (nearly 50 in the last five years), co-authored “The Bible” of seaweed physiology and ecology, and is one of the most highly cited scholars in his discipline.

His research focused on the microscopic primary producers (the “grass of the sea”) that provide the fuel for the ocean’s food chain, from fish to whales. Paul investigated the productivity in the Strait of Georgia, and conducted large-scale iron fertilization experiments in the North Pacific. Later in his career, he spent 10 years in Hong Kong where he worked on red tides, dead zones, and the role of the ocean in reducing global warming and climate change. Throughout his life, Paul won several awards for his research and teaching, including being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Despite his international recognition, Paul was always willing to put the achievements of others above his own.

Although officially “retired” for five years, Paul never slowed down. He continued to advise students, post-docs and colleagues, spearhead award nominations, advise government agencies, sit on international working groups, write papers and chapters, and edit books. He also supported Nature Vancouver, giving talks, leading field trips, and participating in several wilderness camps throughout British Columbia. He recently joined the Richmond Bike Club and the Golden Ages Hiking Club. Top trips included hiking for ten days in the Czech Republic, cycling for two weeks in Cuba and snowshoeing in the local mountains. All of these adventures were shared with his enthusiastic wife and teammate, Victoria. Above this all, Paul’s real passion was running. He got hooked during graduate school and made a habit of never traveling without his runners. He always said it was his natural high.

He will be greatly missed by his wife of 51 years, Victoria, their three children, Richard, Christina and Rachel, their three grandchildren, Shoshauna, Anastasia, and Payton, his sister Joan and her three children, Aaron, Andrew and Nancy, and their families, sister-in-law Gwen and brother-in-law Glen, and their families, as well as colleagues from around the world.

The impact of your support

In memory of Paul’s life and contributions to the university, the Paul J. Harrison Memorial Award in Oceanography has been established at the UBC Faculty of Science.

Your gift will pay tribute to Paul, by supporting an outstanding graduate student within the Oceanography program. The Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences has also agreed to match all donations to the award, up to a maximum of $20,000, meaning your donation could be doubled. Thank you.

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