Ed Becker, Ph.D.

Honorary Research Associate

He loved life -- even its tiniest forms

Charles Enman, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2008
For Ed Becker, a former NRC entomologist, insects were a gripping passion and calling.
For Ed Becker, a former NRC entomologist, insects were a gripping passion and calling.

Ed Becker was often called the "Bug Doc," and seldom has a nickname more suited its bearer.

Mr. Becker was an entomologist who pursued that fascination not only through a 28-year career with Agriculture Canada, but through an additional 28 years during which he would go in to the office, unpaid, in service of a gripping passion and calling.

"My father had no hobbies," his daughter, Marcia Gosse, said. "Insects filled the whole space." When the family vacationed, collecting insects would be a background goal shared by all.

Mr. Becker knew entomologists across North America. He attended every one of the last 49 annual meetings of the Entomological Society of Canada.

His résumé ran to 12 single-spaced pages, nearly every entry detailing another of his achievements in his study of the insect world.

His specialty was click beetles, known for the clicking they make, mostly to escape predators. "There are so many species of click beetle in the world -- and they're all so different, and there's so much we don't know," he once said.

Much of his retirement was spent taking care of CanaColl, a not-for-profit organization he founded in 1972. CanaColl raised money to enable scientists from around the world to study Canada's national insect collection and for researchers to add new specimens to the collection.

For his stewardship of CanaColl, Mr. Becker received several citations, including one from Agriculture Canada, praising this "fruitful partnership amidst current constraints in science policy." And it was fruitful indeed, considering that Mr. Becker accepted no pay for this labour of love.

For the past 18 years, he put out a quarterly newsletter for retired entomologists and their spouses.

Mr. Becker was raised on a family farm in southeast Missouri. He had completed three years of an agricultural studies program at the University of Missouri when he joined the U.S. marines. The war ended just as he was being shipped to Japan, but he was able to visit that country and saw the devastation the atom bomb had on Nagasaki.

After the war, he continued his entomological studies, earning a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1952 with a thesis on a genus of click beetles. By good fortune, Agriculture Canada was looking for a taxonomist to work on click beetles at the Canadian National Collection of Insects and Arachnids. He and his wife soon moved to Ottawa. He once described the collection as "not the biggest, but the best research collection in North America."

Mr. Becker was a devoted family man, married for nearly 60 years to Martha Mae Elliott. They raised five daughters in Ottawa. The family went on trips every year, "but they were definitely collecting trips," his daughter, Marcia, recalled. "I remember one year we went to Jamaica -- and he collected the beetles, and we got to collect the moths and the butterflies, which for us were much more appealing."

Mr. Becker was a Scout leader and also deeply involved with his church, Rideau Park United, where he held numerous positions.

Though serious about his work, Mr. Becker believed humans were put on Earth to enjoy life. He believed in having fun, and once, as a practical joke, considered putting a beetle in the church's collection plate. One of his common sayings was, "Life's no fun if it's just, 'yes, sir,' 'no, sir'."

He received numerous rewards for his work, including, in 1978, the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal.

Mr. Becker enjoyed good health until recently. In the last two months, he developed severe congestive heart failure. He died last Tuesday, at the age of 85, surrounded by family.

He is survived by his wife and daughters Barbara, Marcia, Debra, Lynda and Patricia.

Visitation will be Thursday, 7 to 9 p.m. at Hulse, Playfair & McGarry, 315 McLeod St., and Friday, noon to 1 p.m. at Rideau Park United Church. The memorial service will begin at 1 p.m.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

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