BELLINGHAM — Former Western Washington University president Charles “Jerry” Flora was remembered as a passionate teacher, a man of integrity and a lover of science after his death Sunday evening.
Flora, 85, died shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday surrounded by family at his home in Everson. He and his wife, Rosemary, had been in a car crash Dec. 16, and on Friday he was brought home with the help of hospice care after his condition deteriorated.
Flora started teaching at WWU in 1957 and was president from 1967 to 1975. He co-founded Huxley College of the Environment and helped create what is now the Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes. He also helped found what is now the Institute for Watershed Studies.
WWU President Bruce Shepard said Flora moved the university forward through a turbulent era of social and financial upheaval.
“He was a marvelous professor,” Shepard said. “I think that’s higher praise than to simply be an outstanding president. That’s the calling that gets us into this line of work to begin with — to be an educator.”
Longtime family friend Eric Hall described Flora as his academic father. Hall went to school with Flora’s son and eventually had Flora as a teacher and advisor while he studied biology at WWU.
“It’s really hard to find the words to describe the effect Jerry had,” Hall said. “I know that every life he touched, there was a huge impact. He had this way of getting you to ask the questions instead of giving you the answer, and you weren’t upset about it. You just went on your way and got the answers and figured it out.”
Flora’s daughter, Lise Flora Waugh, said she couldn’t have asked for a better father.
“He was just a really dynamic individual, very compassionate and open-minded,” Lise said. “He cared deeply about biology and about teaching his students and conveying the importance of science to others. He was funny, very funny. He just always could see the bright side of things. Not funny as in telling jokes. He was just a very happy soul.”
People who didn’t attend WWU still might have known Flora for his time on the small screen. He served as a meteorologist at KVOS TV and created his marine life series “Tidepool Critters.” He also led beach walks to teach about the sea and its wonders.
“It was definitely a personal passion for him,” his daughter said.
The family will have a small funeral on Friday, and donations can be made in Flora’s memory to WWU’s biology department. The family is hoping the university will name the Biology building after Flora.
The family plans to have a larger memorial in spring that is open to anyone. Lise is collecting stories and photos of her father for the memorial; they can be sent to her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Really (a funeral) is not his thing,” Lise said. “He specifically wanted us to have a party.”