Professor Rick Speare AM, PhD, MBBS(Hons), BVSc(Hons), DVSc, FAFPHM, FACTM, MANZCVS
2 August 1947 – 5 June 2016
While its very sad to hear of the tragic death of Rick Speare in a car accident in the Atherton Tablelands on June 5th, it presents us with the opportunity to honour this great man. As you can see from the abbreviations after Rick’s name he wasn’t one to sit still – not content with being a veterinarian (BVSc awarded with 1st Class Honours, in 1970) AND a medical doctor (MB BS awarded with 1st Class Honours, in 1975) he also wanted to further himself as a active research scientist by completing a PhD in 1987 on parasitic nematode worms – he was truly a remarkable man and a fountain of wisdom and knowledge.
Rick swabbing Leiopelma archeyi (with Phil Bishop).
From an amphibian point of view Rick is probably best known for his research on amphibian diseases and this earned him a higher doctorate (DVSc) awarded by the University of Queensland.
Rick published over 250 peer-reviewed publications covering a variety of topics from paramphistomid trematodes of the agile wallaby, scabies, head lice, malaria, Australian bat Lyssavirus to the better known publications on amphibian diseases from salmonella and ranaviruses in cane toads, through Mucor amphibiorum in Litoria caerulea, to his seminal work on chytridiomycosis.
Rick came out to New Zealand to spend his sabbatical with me in 2006 and we started to work on the amphibian chytrid fungus in our New Zealand native and introduced frogs. This collaboration resulted in him being appointed as an Honorary Professor at the University of Otago. The presence of introduced frogs in New Zealand (Litoria aurea, L. ewingii and L. raniformis) – two of which are threatened in their home ranges in Australia, provided us with a unique opportunity to work on these frogs without the added complications of working on protected and threatened species. Rick returned many times to his ‘second’ home here in Dunedin (New Zealand) and we had many adventures as far afield as the Chatham Islands to Central Otago. On one memorable occasion after a gruelling night in the cold, wind and rain on the southern part of Chatham Island, Rick admitted that this was the “most miserable field work” he had ever been involved with! Rick had a fantastic sense of humour and despite these challenging conditions he always looked on the bright side and worked tirelessly through the night to process the samples in a makeshift laboratory.
Rick swabbing frogs with a University of Otago student.
Although Rick officially retired in 2012 he co-authored 36 publications between 2013-2015! Following his retirement, he and his wife Kerry Kelly moved to their recently constructed retirement property in the Atherton Tablelands. I was fortunate enough to visit Rick at his new property in January 2014 and we spent a very pleasant evening surveying his stream for amphibians. We managed to find 8 species of frogs in his section of the Kiandra Creek (elevation 637m) including a cane toad with a leech, Austrochaperina robusta and Litoria rheocola.
His recent focus has been on improving the health of people and animals in the Solomon Islands as the founder and leader of the Atoifi Health Research Group. His family has set up a Rick Speare Memorial Fund to raise funds to continue his work in the Solomon Islands. If you would like to contribute to this fund please visit this website: https://alumni.jcu.edu.au/RSpeareMemFund.
Rick has influenced many of our lives and has been the academic father and grandfather to a whole host of researchers across the world – he was a great mentor, friend and role model to many of us and will be sadly missed. Rick is survived by his wife Kerry, three sons, two daughters and five grandchildren. Our thoughts are with the family at this very sad time.
Rick’s funeral will be held on Thursday, June 16th (Australian time Queensland 2.00pm) and will be live streamed if you want to watch it at https://iframe.dacast.com/b/57127/c/344541.
By Phil Bishop
Above: Rick collecting tadpoles (and mud) in Chatham Island.
Rick giving a talk about amphibian diseases at NZ Frog Week (Otago) 2007.
Rick processing tadpoles in our ‘lab’ (Chatham Island).
Rick checking out the Leiopelma archeyi frogs during the infection studies.
Rick and Phil Bishop surveying Kiandra Creek on Rick’s new property in Atherton Tablelands.
Rick and his wife Kerry in Dunedin.