Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi

Ruth O'Brien

An Outstanding Islander

Outline photo of Ruth O'Brien

A Growing Passion
University herbarium curator Ruth O'Brien says her life mission is to pay back her debt to society. When she first analyzed plants under the microscope more than 30 years ago, she was hooked. Her deep-rooted interest in wild plants and taxonomy led her to a Master of Science in Biology in 1980 from Corpus Christi State University. A year later, the alumnus set up the University herbarium and became its curator in 1983. An open house was held last month for the herbarium, located in the Natural Resources Center, which houses more than 1,500 Coastal Bend plants. O'Brien identifies plants, answers the public's questions on plants and assists students in the lab. The former University adjunct professor of plant taxonomy says Coastal Bend plants are adaptive to the area's many environments. Her favorite plant is the mesquite brush for its never-ending roots, providing the plant with water. Recently, the Native Plant Society of Texas presented O'Brien, Dr. Roy Lehman and Tammy White with the Donovan Stewart Correll Memorial Award for scientific writing in the field of native flora in Texas for their book "Plants of the Coastal Bend." O'Brien also wrote "Plants of Webb County" in 2002 and is co-author of recovery plans for two local endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Before Ruth and her husband, Joseph, moved to Corpus Christi in 1949, Ruth graduated with her bachelor's degree in bacteriology from the University of Minnesota in 1945. Through the years, the O'Briens have donated monies to improve the herbarium and, in 2008, they started the Joseph A. and Ruth S. O'Brien Endowed Herbarium Internship. The couple has served on the President's Council for 18 years and in October 2009, was inducted into the Endowed Scholarship Council at the Blue Wave level. Ruth is a 50-year volunteer of the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, donating her time as a docent, auxiliary officer, board member and honorary curator of the Museum's herbarium.

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