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Remembering Dr. Fred Roots

We are deeply saddened by the passing of our colleague, friend, and most recent recipient of The Explorers Club Medal, Dr. Fred Roots. Our thoughts are with those who knew him, particularly our Canadian Chapter Members, who had the distinct honor of working closely with him. Canadian Chapter Chair Ray Hyland MI’12 and Cathie Hickson FI’04 shared the following words with us, which we would like to share with the broader Explorers Club community.

Dr. Ernest Frederick Roots, O.C., was born in Salmon Arm, BC, on July 5, 1923 passing away October 18, 2016 in Sooke, BC. To say that his was a life well lived for more than 93 years is an understatement.  Fred can be counted among the great explorers of past 100 years and the tributes to him are pouring in.  There are few Canadians living or dead who have a mountain named after them, but Fred is one of a very few who have had an entire mountain chain, Antarctica’s “Roots Range” dubbed in his honour as an explorer, geologist, geophysicist and diplomat. He was honoured March 12, 2016 with the Explorers Club highest honour – the Explorers Club Medal. This short video highlights a few of his life’s achievements and was prepared for that occasion.

My relationship with Fred was a bit different. I knew him as the father of a lanky bunch of five kids who played along the banks of the Gatineau River in Quebec.  My cousin was a neighbour of the Roots’ and as neighbour kids we didn’t really know what Dr. Roots did, but according to my Aunt he did something important and went away for long periods of time to the Polar Regions. Our focus was playing in the woods and swimming in the river.  Years after the kids had grown up and had kids of their own, Dr. and Mrs. Roots would still come down to the river to swim every morning.  According to my Aunt they swam every day from ice breakup to freeze over, until their move to Sooke on Vancouver Island a few short years ago.  This multiple decade long daily regime of a “polar plunge” must have provided the stamina for all those weeks and months Fred spent in polar realms.

Fast forward 20 years and we are all grown up and on career tracks of our own. My visits to the Gatineau were less frequent and childhood memories faded.  In Vancouver where I worked for the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) I met the new research scientist recently transferred from Ontario.  It took a while for the connections over the decades to click back into place; for us both to realize he was my cousin’s neighbour from the Gatineau along whose banks we had played.  Charlie was Fred and June’s only son. And a truly remarkable explorer of his own.  Following in the footsteps of his illustrious father as a geologist he also worked for the GSC forging his own notable career. He spoke often and lovingly about his father and family; recounting Fred’s famous feats with reverence. However, fate was not kind to Charlie and he died at age 60 on June 29, 2016 after a heroic battle with ALS.

It is truly with deep sadness that I mourn the loss of these two remarkable men; both explorers of this world and its amazing landforms and geology. Although neither became members of the Explorers Club, they were both eminently qualified to do so.  Here is the final stanza of the 1939 poem of Breton Braley (recited by heart by Fred) – a poem all explorers should know and hold close as they challenge obstacles plunging forward in the quest for greater knowledge.

In a game where you risk your chances
When prudence irks and you shoot the works
With never a qualm to bind you,
Your path made bright by the burning light
Of the bridges you burned behind you!

Cathie Hickson FI’04, BC Yukon Section Director

Photo: Fred Roots in his beloved Polar realm. (R. Keough)

Published by : Explorers Club Staff

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Background image photography courtesy of members Christoph Baumer, Neil Laughton, Matt Harris and Don Walsh's image of the Bathyscape Trieste