A unique personality has left us. On July 6, 2021, Valerius Geist passed away. He was 83 years old.
Known as the “Professor Doctor,“ he was an exceptional mix of grace, vision and insatiable curiosity. The ever-patient parent, teacher, and friend, Valerius was possessed of relentless courage and bottomless perseverance. He was graced with huge personality; passionate, intense, massive intellect, big of heart. He commanded a very firm handshake and incredible hugs. His smile would light up a room and welcome anyone in it.
Valerius was brilliant. He just was.
His was a home where discussion, thoughts, and curiosity were considered as essential as protein with every meal. Love of knowledge, the joy of discovery (especially scientific), and the delight of facts were nutritious fare for him. He exemplified what is possible when one follows the threads of insight into creation.
And create he did…. He was a prolific author of numerous books (20 at last count) dozens of articles, and scientific papers, presentations that educated, inspired, and enchanted people around the world in his field of zoology. He was a sought-after speaker, a teacher, and a mentor. He invited fearless objectivity, scientific analysis, and was excited rather than threatened by contradictory evidence. He felt contradictory evidence was an opportunity for new insights, new thinking; it opened new doors. He was considered to be one of the greatest zoologists in the world.
His path through academia includes a PhD with honours from UBC in Zoology and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Along the way he was recognized with numerous awards. He is a founding member and first Program Director of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary. He retired as Professor Emeritus.
His work can best be described as an interdisciplinary approach to dynamic function, behaviour, and evolutionary processes of species and ecosystems. It was never only about the bighorn sheep, or the wolves, or the many species of ungulates he studied; it was how they were integrated into the whole of their environments. It was how humans impacted them.
Valerius was a combination of scientist and artist, his books on wildlife are nothing short of fascinating, beautiful and informative. They wove the layers of facts, ideas, and knowledge into a tapestry that showed the complexity of the natural world. Some measure of his intellect was revealed in his 1978 tome, “Life Strategies, Human Evolution, Environmental Design: Toward a Biological Theory of Health.” Now, more than forty years later, a comprehensive, functional approach is increasingly being embraced as revolutionary in his field. He was aware he was way “ahead of his time.”
He was a hunter par excellence. He loved it! Autumn of each year was sacred. It was his time to benefit from being in the Natural world, its beauty, stillness and interconnectedness. With zest and gusto he approached all aspects of this ancient metier … the planning, the weapons, the hunt, the bounty, the history and the ethics. His respect for the animal was utmost. The animal gave to him and his family. Nothing was wasted. It was a passion that he transmitted to his son Karl. His joy at presiding over a deer haunch roast was a moment of great pride, and always with a story. However, Valerius was no stranger to lack, and appreciated the abundance that hunting gave him.
He was the son of Olga Geist and Alexandre Shutov, both naval engineers. The world circumstances of the WWII impacted this family greatly. Separated from his father, his mother and he, along with his aunt and grandmother, had to flee from Russia to Germany. He immigrated to Canada in 1953. The tumultuous journey of upheaval, confusion and scarcity shaped many of his core perspectives and beliefs. He knew the true value of great meal, good company, and an excellent exchange of ideas.
He absolutely loved his wife, Renate. She was his muse. It was with her that he had his deepest exchanges. They met at UBC, and married in 1961. They built a cabin in the Spatizi where Valerius did his bighorn sheep studies. Her steady presence and keen intellect and unwavering support paved the way for him to manifest his accomplishments throughout their time together. Their family was made complete with the arrivals of their daughter Rosemarie, and their sons Karl and Harold.
Their family expanded when Rosemarie married Alain Deschamps. They had two daughters, Raeven and Saxxon. It expanded again when Harold married Alana Miller. They had two sons Finn and Kael, and a daughter Ariana. Valerius and Renate delighted in the extension of their family, proudly showing off a wall of family pictures in their home dubbed “the Wall of Fame.” Valerius was blessed with great-grandsons Sawyer and Ozhaino. He often wished he could take them all hunting.
Valerius had a warm and inviting presence—a vivacious, yet irresistible force driven by decency and goodness. In the weeks before his passing he often said, “I’ve had a good Life”… He left us having experienced the wealth inherent in love of family, friends and community, both local and international, and a zest for life and all of its mysteries. It was a blessing to have known him.
A funeral will be held on July 31, 2021, in Port Alberni. A zoom link will be made available for those who wish to attend on line. In lieu of flowers, please consider sending a donation to the Canadian Diabetes Society to the Alliance for Public Wildlife.
To send flowers to Valerius' family, please visit our floral store.