Andrzej Witkowski – in Memoriam
by Keely Mills, with thanks to Pat Kociolek |
It is with great sadness that we announce that our Friend and Colleague, Professor Andrzej Witkowski, passed away on 17 September 2023. The diatom and wider scientific community are saying goodbye to a prominent scientist, an authority in palaeoceanology, and a valued teacher and mentor.
Andrzej Witkowski began working at the University in Szczecin in 1996 and received a full professorship in Earth Sciences in 2001. During his long career he served the academic community as a holder of many important posts, including the Vice-Rectorship for Science and International Collaboration (2005-2008 and 2008-2012) and membership of the University of Szczecin’s Council (beginning in 2021).
Andrzej Witkowski’s scientific track record features hundreds of publications, monographs, and articles. He participated in numerous scientific expeditions, including to the east coast of South Africa, to Namibia, and the Galapagos. His vast knowledge and warm personality earned him extreme respect and popularity among his students, doctoral students and collaborators.
In 2021, Andrzej Witkowski received an ordinary membership of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS); he was also a member of two PAS committees: Marine Sciences and Geological Sciences. He was also active at the Scientific Council of the PAS’s Institute of Oceanology.
Andrzej Witkowski was extremely active internationally, the network of his international collaborations spanning numerous countries on most continents. He spearheaded numerous international research programmes and projects, organized successful international conferences, and served as President of the International Diatom Society. Andrzej Witkowski’s diverse activities have earned him numerous national distinctions and awards.
He will be remembered as a noble and friendly person, respected, and valued by the scientific and academic community.
He is survived by his wife Małgorzata, his daughter Agnieszka and his son Jakub.
I still vividly remember the first time I met Andrzej in his diatom lab in Szczecin. I came there in 2013 to learn about the complexity of identifying brackish-marine diatoms for my PhD. He immediately became interested in my study region (Ebro Delta, Spain) and work, and treated me like another member of his lab, which he forged with his positive, kind, generous, and enthusiastic skills. Andrzej had time for me every day to go through the slides, letting go every time he saw something interesting: “Lovely”, and “this must be new for the science”. His Diatom Flora from Marine Coasts and thousands of diatom works will live with us in the same way he will be remembered as one of the greatest scientists and diatomists. Thanks so much, Dziękuję bardzo, Andrzej. – Xavier Benito
Als der Humboldtianer 1993 zu Horst Lange-Bertalot an das Botanische Institut nach Frankfurt am Main kam, entstand zwischen uns eine jahrzehntelange Verbundenheit: Die Arbeit am Raster-Elektronenmikroskop und eine wunderbare Freundschaft. Die Stundenzahl der bearbeiteten marinen Diatomeen am SEM der Goethe-Universität (Fachbereich Biowissenschaften) wuchs zunehmend bis ins Jahr 2015 enorm. Kein Wunder: Andrzejs Forscherdrang und meine „Suchlust“ ergänzten sich. Jetzt ist er nicht mehr bei uns – der Freund mit seinem charmanten Wesen. Auch mir wird er fehlen. – Manfred Ruppel
I first met Andrzej when I was doing my PhD and needed someone to help me identify brackish/marine diatoms. It was in 2001 and I went to his lab for 3 months. I hadn’t met him before, but at the 1999 French-speaking diatomists meeting in Nice, Michel Coste told me Andrzej was the person to help with marine diatoms. From the very first moment in Szczecin Andrzej welcomed me into his ‘diatom family’, which is huge because of his generosity, enthusiasm, and interest in other people’s work. Never mind if you were a student or you had already written 80 publications, never mind what language you spoke or what country you came from, he was always there to help and collaborate and always with a light touch. I feel so fortunate to have benefitted from his encyclopaedic knowledge of diatoms but even more to have experienced how kindness, generosity and inclusivity can transform how we do science. I will miss him so much but will continue to be inspired by his example. Dziękuję bardzo Andrzej. – Rosa Trobajo
Beautiful tributes, everyone. I first met Andrezj at the IDS meeting in Poland. At the symposium banquet, he asked me to dance and swept my clumsy feet gracefully around the ballroom, never touching the ground. It was divine. – Sarah Spaulding
I don’t exactly remember when the workshop was where I first met Andrzej, but I do remember our first conversations at the IDS in St. Paul, meeting with Andrzej and Jakub and discussing our research goals and plans at the time. Andrzej immediately treated me like a peer ratherthan a student, and it was impossible to not be swept up in his enthusiasm. He always had time to help identify an unknown diatom and always had a micrograph or two to share and discuss in kind. He fostered such a sense of camaraderie and collaborative spirit in his students, it was hard at times to tell the visitors to his lab from the residents. I feel so fortunate to have worked and traveled with Andrzej; there is no question my life is richer having known him. He was a mentor but also my friend. And I will miss him dearly. – Matt Ashworth
I met him only once, at the International Seaweed Symposium in Szczecin. We spent a couple of hours at his lab going through my slide deck of unidentified Guam diatoms; his suggestions were the basis for a new
records paper which I (finally!!) completed and submitted last month. His comment on many images, though, was “Yes, we’ve seen that too, no we don’t know what it is.” Which is really a reflection of how much work there is to do on marine diatom biodiversity…. and therefore the magnitude of his loss. – Chris Lobban
Wonderful story, Chris. I had less direct interaction with him than you all. But I may have known him the longest. I think he also may have been the nicest and most positive fellow I have ever known. – Ed Theriot
We have been blessed to have had Andrzej as a friend, teacher, mentor and colleague. He will be missed but our sadness will be replaced by appreciation and smiles when we remember the times we shared. His spirit and the endeavors that he was still pursuing only weeks ago will live on through all of us. May we all continue and work together to advance the field that he contributed so much to. He surely would encourage us.
It is difficult to count how many of us he has influenced because there are so many. It is easier to quantify how much he contributed to diatom taxonomy, though not much easier, also because his contributions were so many. A day-long tabulation produced 367 species that he described with others, 37 genera, and 168 genus transfers. Andrzej has been honored with the following species: Gomphonema witkowskii, Navicula andrzej–witkowskii, Navicula witkowskii, Navicula witkowskii (yes, two of them!), Naviculadicta witkowskii, Nitzschia witkowskii, Placoneis witkowskii, and Seminavis witkowskii.
My fondest memory of Andrzej is the warm embrace he gave on my arrival to a Central European Diatom meeting and his introductions to his students Chunlian and Dabek, and Horst, and the Davidoviches. I became family as I am sure you all were to him also.
My Diatom Flora of Marine Coasts I is also well worn. Our love for the man and respect for his work is well evidenced by the broken binding, packing tape wrapping, and the pages glued and taped together. Thank you, Andrzej. – Tom Frankovich
I too am greatly saddened by the passing of this great diatomist and just all around quality person. I cannot tell you how many times I have picked up Andrzej’s 2000 Diatom Flora of Marine Coasts while attempting to identify a marine benthic diatom taxon. He will be greatly missed, that is for sure. – Mike Sullivan
I am completely heartbroken and devastated by this news. Andrzej was an amazing scientist, mentor to hundreds of students and young scientist on both sides of the Atlantic, and just a wonderful human being. A good man. I don’t know what to say. I am in disbelieve and shock. I hope he can be memorized in some special ceremony at both, International and North American Diatom meetings. Diatoms were his life. He was very passionate about his work and he knewhow to transfer that excitement to his students. I was going to be a petroleum geologist, if not for Andrzej who showed me diatoms under microscope, and convinced me that using them as a tool in marine ecology and paleoecology is much cooler than working for an oil company. I am who I am thanks to Andrzej. He was my early mentor and a dear friend. We talked 2 weeks ago and this chemotherapy didn’t sound dangerous. guess his organisms could not withstand more chemicals. RIP, my dear friend and mentor. He will be missed dearly by his former students and postdocs. There are not that many people like him in the world. – Anna Wachnicka