Sunday, October 14, 2012

Robert H. Ruskin, Jr. - 1977

Robert H. Ruskin, Jr.
I am a Virgin Islander.... or at least it is my spiritual home; a home I am never likely to see again. It is hard to believe that I have been in Tucson, Ariz., now for almost 19 years.

My affiliation with the University of the Virgin Islands goes back a long ways. Though I was born in Jamaica, New York, my family moved to St. Croix in 1966 when I was still very young, and thus, I was raised in the Virgin Islands. At age 15 I taught myself to play chess, and in 1968, at the age of 16, I won the St. Croix Open Chess title. "Big Bill Harvey" used to refer to me as the "Teenage Chess Wizard."

In 1970 I graduated from St. Joseph High School on St. Croix. At that time, the Vietnam War was raging and I decided to enlist, anticipating funding from the GI Bill to attend college. After completing a three-year, mandatory enlistment, I enrolled at the College of the Virgin Islands (CVI). One of the reasons I chose to enroll at CVI, was that CVI was one of only two schools that offered an undergraduate degree in Marine and Environmental Sciences – we all dreamed of becoming the next Jacques Cousteau. What aspect of Marine Science I would want to study, now that was a different question. That question was answered one day for me, while cleaning up the old laboratory of Dr. Paul R. Burkholder, where I chanced upon a photo-copy of Claude E. ZoBell's 1946, Marine Microbiology: A Monograph on Hydrobacteriology, which was just about to be thrown onto a trash pile. Since no one wanted it, I “rescued it,” bought a three-ring binder, punched and sorted all the pages putting them all back in order, after which I added it to my "professional library." Little did I know that that find would set the stage for my life's work.

In 1977 I graduated from CVI and immediately found work with the Virgin Islands Department of Environmental Quality as an Environmental Microbiologist analyzing drinking water samples as mandated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In 1980 I went on to do my M.Sc. in Environmental Science and Microbiology. In 1986 my path would once again intersect with now Dr. Henry H. Smith's, who was also the Director of the Virgin Islands Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI). Dr. Smith was looking for a Laboratory Director who had a strong background in both Environmental and Drinking Water Microbiology. I was a perfect fit for the job. I worked for WRRI for almost eight years and truly loved my work, which entailed working long hours, to include Saturdays and Sundays. I was a true laboratory junkie.

Robert H. Ruskin, Jr.-CVI 1976 Yearbook

However, when I was not working in the lab, I could be found working with Drs. Dennis Parker and Rosary Harper in the Little Theater, which was another passion of mine. In 1993 I was persuaded that I should go on and do a Ph.D. Through many of the professional connections I had made during those eight years at WRRI, I would end up going to the University of Arizona to major in Watershed Management, minoring in Microbiology and Immunology. My Ph.D. dissertation was titled, Bacterial Indicator Organisms in Various Classes of Cisterns in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two months before I graduated I was diagnosed with a slow progressive form of Parkinson's Disease.

Today, twice a week, I can once again be found playing chess and terrorizing some poor soul. While I no longer play competitively, I am teaching an 83 year old "student" some of the finer aspects of the game. Once every month or two I escort a former colleague to the theater, a movie, or help her develop ideas for a class in Public Health that she has been asked to teach next year. Still I think back with fond memories of the almost 30 years I spent in the Virgin Islands which, regardless of how many years I live in Arizona, will always be home to me. 

Robert Ruskin now lives in Tucson, Arizona.

1 comment:

  1. Bob you were great to work with at DCCA. Dependable, competent and good humored. Although then I also worked at DCCA, now I am at UVI working, at times, with Dr. Smith.


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