My tiny tribute to Godfrey Hewitt’s remarkable contribution to our understanding of biodiversity

A little more than one month ago the world of biology lost a very inspirational researcher: Godfrey Hewitt

He marked my scientific path in several ways. The first conference I saw since I started my research career was by Hewitt at CIBIO (at that time called UGAC) back in 1999 or 2000. I was just starting and therefore, IScreen Shot 2013-03-26 at 20.11.23 had no idea about who he was (and unfortunately students could not interact much with invited speakers). Nevertheless, the phylogeographic patterns of postglacial colonization of European biota he presented, and mainly the hybrid zones, would inspire much of the work me and my colleagues would do during the following years.

 

Later on, after several casual encounters (e.g. at Catarina Pinho’s thesis defense, conference), I can say I finally met him during another of his visits to the lab (for another PhD thesis defense: Ricardo Pereira), when I had the chance to interact personally with him during an entire week. Our conversations covered pretty much everything, but were mostly about life (in a very broad and narrow sense). He had gone through much due to his health problems, which, of course, marked our conversations. He was so close (for someone I just met) that I would feel comfortable to tell him all my secrets, if I had them (?). This power he had to reach people inside was a bit scary to me, but revealed a very unique sensibility to understand other human beings. He was one of the most skilled people I know when it comes to reading and understanding other people. His brief scientific and historical comments, as well the description of his academic and personal path were very inspiring to me. That week ended up marking my life. I keep remembering some of our conversations in the hope that those words can positively influence my decisions, scientific or not. It was with him, a few years after my PhD defense, that I finally understood the practical meaning of the word Mentor.

I’m sad because my current and future students were not able meet him but he left such a huge legacy that I hope that can inspire them as well. I would like to be such an influential mentor to them, as he was to me in a single week. I have doubts I can. But as he used to say in a very liberating way “We do what we can”.

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