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Moment of Silence - Dr. Robert S. Reich, FASLA, 1913-2010

by Buck Abbey, ASLA, Associate Professor and Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University

Dr. Robert Reich (center front) is show here on a class outing to the Hilltop Arboretum in Baton Rouge in the spring of 2009. Although retired, ''Doc'' continued to teach one class at LSU. His last class was the 2010 spring semester. Photo: LSU archive, Yuanman Zhong, Shanghai.

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The landscape architecture profession in the U. S., and indeed around the world, is saddened to hear of the passing of long time teacher Robert S. Reich, FASLA of Louisiana State University.

''Doc'' as he was known to all, my colleague and friend, passed peacefully to a better place on the last day of July 2010.

He was very active for a 97-year old landscape architect. As recently as the month before his passing his designed improvements to Hilltop Arboretum in Baton Rouge were dedicated. Doc worked on and off on developing this gardens for over 60 years. He was working on landscape plans for his last project just days before his passing. Imagine a landscape architect with the energy and enthusiasm to continue his life devoted to design until the very end. He got that inspiration in part from his lord, his family and his students.

Teaching was the love of his life. And he was noted as one of the best teachers of landscape architecture in a generation. If you look down the list of ASLA Medal and the Jot Carpenter Teaching Medal recipients, the Society's highest honors, you will find his name listed among the greatest teachers and designers the profession of landscape architecture has ever produced.

Dr. Robert Reich, leading students on a plant tour in 2007. Photo Credit: Prof. Charles Fryling, Jr.

His students were very special to him. He taught, nurtured and inspired them to become landscape architects and to appreciate excellent design and the natural elements of the earth, especially those landscape plants that he knew so well as a planting designer. Doc was very meticulous when it came to plant design. He knew their very nature and how best to contrast them with form, color and texture. He has his favorites, but he could use any plant, from Johnson's grass to live oaks, in imaginative ways that would capture the spirit of the place he was designing. Reich's designs were inspired by his friend Garrett Eckbo, whom he briefly worked with in California.

Although retired since 1983, Doc continued to teach one class at LSU till the end of spring semester 2010. He taught the class at his retirement home with the assistance of Professor Max Conrad, senior faculty member of the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture. The school was renamed in his honor on behalf of his alumni from around the country and world in October 2007.

Robert Reich had degrees in horticulture and education from Cornell University and has been referred as the founder of landscape architecture in Louisiana. At the time he arrived to teach at LSU, very few people in Louisiana practiced landscape architecture or its predecessor, landscape gardening. Reich helped established professional licensing in Louisiana in the 1950s, one of the first states in the country to do so. In the 1960s, he grew the landscape design and ornamental horticulture curriculum in the Horticulture Department of the College of Agriculture.

Dr. Reich, leading a tour of the Memphis Zoo. Photo Credit: Prof. Charles Fryling, Jr.

After accreditation by the ASLA in the 1960s, he saw to its transfer in the early 1970s to the new College of Environmental Design. The college raised landscape architecture from a horticulture craft to a true design program with professional school status, associated with architecture, interior design and art. With his work at the university, his private practice over the years and his influence on employees and students, he has certainly earned the title as Founder of Landscape Architecture in Louisiana.

He also had great influence over his faculty. They were all carefully selected for their diversity of talents and backgrounds. Many came directly from Harvard. In the mid-1970s all but two were Harvard graduates. For many years Doc ran the only program on the LSU campus that was dominated by Harvard grads. He chose his professors carefully, looking for those skills and attitudes that would make an inspired teacher. He always hired those that could bring out the very best in the students, while delivering to them the most updated knowledge of the profession. He wanted colleagues who could motivate and inspire and were dedicated to landscape architecture, education and the pursuit of excellence. He was able to find such talent and draw them to Baton Rouge.

His professional work over the years will live on for people to enjoy.

Examples of his landscape design work are found in every city of Louisiana. They include parks, churches, schools, public spaces, governmental centers and many residential designs. It is important that these landscapes be preserved because they are a record on earth of this man and a design inspiration to all of us.

There are so many ways Doc will be remembered by his family, friends, faculty, students and clients. This memoriam would go on forever in an attempt to explain the complex relationships this man could build with any living person. I might just say the key to his personal relationships was he loved everyone. He only saw the good, never the bad. He had patience and charity with everyone, especially young students. He shared his passion for the design of landscapes for human use and enjoyment and the preservation of God's natural world.

Doc is gone from this place and sadly missed. He is with the angels where he belongs. I am sure he is already talking to them about redesigning their world with heavenly trees, shrubs, ground covers, vines, grasses, water, landform and space.

From my 35 year relationship with him I know he would want everyone to happily move on, live their life to the fullest, and do good things for the natural world and the communities in which we live.

His last lecture to us would be, love God, spend much time with your family, stay in touch with all friends and clients, do excellent work and support landscape architecture at LSU.

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June 18, 2019, 8:47 am PDT

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