Family Gives Thanks As Boulder Man Flourishes Past 100 Years
On the nation’s day reserved for the ritual giving of thanks, Bill Weber has probably at least 100 reasons for gratitude.
Known more professionally as Dr. William A. Weber, he is a longtime Boulder resident and botanist of international repute who marked his 100th birthday earlier this month and continues to lead a life laced with inspiration and achievement.
Most business days, Weber slips on his size-11 Altra blue running shoes and walks the 10 minutes from his apartment at Brookdale Meridian Boulder on Table Mesa Drive to the nearby Elevations Credit Union and parks himself in an easy chair in the lobby.
“I just came in one day and decided to sit down,” he said with a laugh, noting that the coffee’s great and the staff is more than welcoming. “I just horn in.”
Weber does more than that, serving as unofficial greeter and even offering to read from one of his favorite books to strangers who might join him in a nearby chair. He’s currently re-reading J. M. Barrie’s “Sentimental Tommy.”
“I consider him one of the most wonderful writers of the dawn of the Industrial Revolution,” he said, thumbing a well-worn copy of his current reading selection.
To say that Weber is horning in on the credit union would probably not be perfectly accurate. He lays claim to the title of being Boulder’s oldest living charter member of Elevations, and he is sufficiently well-loved there that the week of his 100th birthday — which was last Friday — the credit union was decked out with photographs of Weber and balloons every day.
“He talks to everybody who comes in, and he makes everybody’s day bright,” said Elevations financial solutions guide Sarah Belkin. “He is an all-around great guy.”
Antarctica jaunt at 93
He’s also a lot of other things.
Weber, who retired as a professor of natural history from the University of Colorado in 1991, founded the CU Museum of Natural History Herbarium, a collection of more than 600,000 specimens of vascular plants, moss and lichen in 1946. In 2012 it was named in his honor , the William A. Weber Collection.
Considered a world authority on the flora of the Galapagos Islands, Weber has traveled and studied extensively in South America, Europe, Australia, Russia and Siberia. There are more than 40 plant, moss and lichen species named for him.
He has also not ignored the natural world closer to home, not by a long shot. The author of more than 20 books, many of which examine Colorado’s flora and have been in print continuously since 1952, Weber’s oeuvre includes publications such as “Colorado Flora: Eastern Slope” and “Colorado Flora: Western Slope,” both co-authored with Ronald Wittmann.
Weber has recently been honored with three lifetime achievement awards; in July it was the prestigious Acharius Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Lichenology by the International Association for Lichenology. That was followed in August 2018 by the American Bryological and Lichenological Society honoring him with the Elizabeth Britton Award for Lifetime Achievement in Bryology as well as the Chicita Culberson Award for Lifetime Achievement in Lichenology.
The list of professional accolades goes on, but on the recreational side of the coin he is also no slouch, having run in the first-ever Bolder Boulder, and also completing the last mile of the race this year at age 99. He was also prolific as a character actor in community theater, a choral singer and even known to cut a smart figure on roller skates.
“I’m editing his autobiography right now. It’s about 800 pages,” said one of his three daughters, Linna Weber Muller-Wille, who lives in Montreal, and is visiting Boulder for her father’s birthday and Thanksgiving. “Don’t even attempt anything like that.”
The family’s turkey will be carved and served this year at the home of granddaughter Heidi Alina, who lives in Boulder. Alina said the gathering will be a fairly casual affair — last week’s centenary birthday celebration was an epic, multi-day observance — but she left no doubt that she has a lot to be thankful for.
In an email, she expressed gratitude that “he raised us all to be so respectful and curious, not only about nature, but about other cultures and people as well.
“This is something we need more of in the world these days! I’m so thankful to have grown up in a family that cherishes community, and native peoples and cultures all around the world.”
Weber’s middle daughter, Heather Harris, who lives on Sugarloaf west of Boulder, said “I think that what all three of us girls were quite thankful for was the upbringing that both our parents gave us, and particularly with my dad, as far as I was concerned, going on field trips with him and being out in nature from a very young age.”
Those father-daughter trips included two to Nepal and even one to Antarctica, when Weber was a sprightly 93.
“It was something on his bucket list from the time he was 10 years old. It was really more for fun, than anything else. It was something he always wanted to do,” Harris said of Antarctica.
As her daughter had said, Harris expected Thanksgiving to be low-key — despite the family’s many blessings.
“I was kind of birthdayed out” at the end of last week, she confessed. “I was just exhausted from taking him to all the different birthdays. He was having the time of his life. I was glad that the whole week was over. But he had so much fun. He really enjoyed every bit of it.”
‘Still don’t feel old’
One of the first things Weber said to a visitor at Elevations on Wednesday was “I’m on the way out.”
It wasn’t offered in maudlin or melancholy spirit; rather, it was presented as an objective assessment of the plain present-day facts of life.
But if the finish line is in sight, Weber isn’t coasting to the end, with a family member recently creating his official website. It includes ” Acta Botanica Weberi ,” an online journal for papers he wants to publish without the long wait for peer review, such as his new piece on the geographical distribution of mosses.
Weber talks freely of the gifts his later life has brought him. That includes a newfound garrulousness that he said evaded him in his younger years; his ability to see people he used to consider his students as peers with things of their own to teach him; the freedom to do just as he pleases, which on many days is sitting in the Elevations lobby in his “Team Elevations” T-shirt sharing the writings of an author best known for “Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”
But for those anxious to know the secret of his longevity, Weber does not have a lot to offer.
“I don’t have the faintest idea. I never thought about being old,” he declared. “I still don’t feel old.”
On the subject of holidays, he voiced a preference for turkey day.
“I don’t really celebrate Christmas, because I don’t believe in it,” he confided.
“But it’s not a matter of belief with Thanksgiving. I’m thanks-giving every day.”
Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/chasbrennan