Written by son Carl Chew
Robert Chew passed away in September, 2014.. He struggled with Parkinson’s disease for many years and though we will all miss him terribly we also are relieved his suffering is over.
My dad was an amazing person. When he was born in 1923 he was not expected to live more than a few hours. The doctor who attended his birth left immediately saying there was nothing he could do. My grandfather ran to the next town and got another doctor who came and operated on my father to save his life. Still, no one thought that he would live more than a few weeks. When he survived no one thought he would live a year, then a couple years, then longer. I can only speculate that it was extremely difficult for his parents to bond to him and that may have left him searching his whole life for what it meant to be close and loved. The birth defect that my father had was called amniotic banding. It occurs when part of the amniotic sac becomes wrapped around ankles and wrists, and causes severe deformities to hands and feet as well as restricted blood flow. Several years ago on a walk in a park my father came across a little girl who began pointing at him. He went over to talk to her parents and discovered that she also had amniotic banding and had recognized that my father had it as well. He and that little girl had a great time sharing experiences.
Robert was the consummate ecologist and zoologist. He became interested in ecology before anyone knew what the word meant. After moving to Los Angeles to teach at the University of Southern California he became interested in studying the high desert. In 1956 we took a short vacation to the wilds of southeastern Arizona, and stayed at The Southwestern Research Station near Portal, Arizona. A year or so later we moved to the research station and he convinced a local rancher to lend him 20 acres in perpetuity for his research. My father with the help of my mom and all of us kids began studying everything that grew, lived, breathed, slithered, and foraged on that 20 acre plot. He knew that any real ecological science required many years of continued research and he studied that land meticulously for over 50 years. In the process he published more than 60 papers and collaborated with scientists all over the United States and world.
My father was also someone who understood the meaning of following your own dreams. One summer I returned from the University of Washington to Santa Monica and had a desire to take some summer classes at USC. I was a zoology major at the time and asked my dad register me for some zoology classes. When I got home I asked him what he had signed me up for and he said two art classes. It seems that he knew better than I did that my future did not lie in zoology!
He and my mom tirelessly took us kids camping, gave us music lessons, sent us to camp every summer, and made sure we had everything we needed to grow up strong and creative. They were supportive of any idea that we had if we could show them the importance of it.
My father passed away peacefully with family around him and will be sorely missed by all of us. He is survived by Alice who is now 97, Carl, Zoe, and Paul his children, and five grandchildren.