Thursday, April 25, 2019

Olaf Kenneth Ribeiro, grandson of the greatest Kenya Goan legend

Olaf Kenneth Ribeiro, an extraordinary man

Olaf next to one of the oldest trees in his neck of the woods
Olaf Kenneth Ribeiro was born in Nairobi Kenya, the son of Dr Manuel & Angel Ribeiro de Santana.  His siblings include the late Dr Gerry Ribeiro – Cancer researcher at the Christie Holt Radium Hospital in Manchester, UK, the late Hubert de Santana – writer and poet, Toronto, Canada and sister Teresa Quadros presently living in Paradise Valley, Arizona.
His grandfather Dr Rosendo Ribeiro was the first medical doctor in Kenya arriving on a Dhow in 1900. He made his medical rounds on a zebra. The only person to have ever tamed a zebra!


I went to the Doctor Ribeiro Goan School in Nairobi and later transferred to the Technical High School to finish my secondary education. I then went to Britain to finish my pre-college curriculum. Then received a scholarship from the Kenya Government to attend Egerton Agricultural College, Njoro, Kenya where I also managed the 1500 acre farm splitting the animal husbandry duties with a colleague while I managed the agronomy aspects of the farm.

After graduation, I worked at the Grasslands Research Station in Kitale.  I then received an AID scholarship to attend West Virginia University to study Plant Pathology and returned to the Plant Breeding Station, Njoro the after obtaining my Master’s degree. After a year of working at this location decided to go back to the US to obtain my PhD degree in Plant Pathology. I was then hired by the University of California Riverside to work on a particular disease of Citrus and Avocado.  I became a world authority on this pathogen –Phytophthora. This pathogen originally caused the potato blight in Ireland in the 1850s.  Because of the importance of this pathogen to agriculture worldwide, wrote two textbooks on this pathogen.

I got involved with plants through the influence of my mother who was an avid gardener and taught me much about growing plants. However, I was always curious about trees and how they managed to go so big and survive so many years. I so realized that just about everybody I met loved trees and the calming effect they had on people. However, everyone took them for granted. It was much later that I realized no one knew how to diagnose tree problem – or how to treat diseased trees. I decided that with my background in plant pathology I should develop techniques to save trees. This has been successful resulting in my being asked to give seminars across the US and in Britain and Hungary.

Meanwhile, I realized that saving trees also clashed with developers who wanted to remove trees for their developments. This resulted in many contentious exchanges with developers and the city. In a couple of cases resulting in taking the city to court to save trees! Also arranged for demonstrations to save trees! My campaign to save trees continues. After some 20 years of campaigning, finally got the city to pass a tree ordinance to protect important and historic trees.

Also, I give tree walks to show people the importance of trees. Last year with the help of a computer specialist, tagged the trees downtown with an IT address that people could scan and get information on their cell phone about that particular tree.

Presently completing a book on “The Historic, Champion & Unique trees of Bainbridge Island”.

Salute to a tree legend
History's Heroes Feb 2019 Speech for Olaf
I am so honoured to be here tonight to honour a very special islander.  Dr Ribeiro has been active in our community in meaningful ways that restore and protect our island's most vital natural resources. In my opinion, Dr Ribeiro is a genuine example of Bainbridge Island's 'old guard.' These engaged citizens, like Olaf, stand watch as sentinels for our quality of life, and as advocates for systems-thinking which is the gateway towards ecological health for all.
Dr Ribeiro was born in East Kenya and had an international career in plant pathology before he arrived on our island in August of 1981. His life-long passion as a plant pathologist and horticulturist are highly valued among islanders, and our city government as well. Dr Ribeiro has been able to use his vast experience as a scientist, steward and educator to inform and rescue many heritage trees on our island.
We oft regard Dr Ribeiro as Bainbridge Island's real-life Lorax. In this wildly popular Dr Seuss children's story, the passionate creature called The Lorax "speaks for the trees." In all the years many of us have had the honour to know Dr. Ribeiro, or as we call him, Olaf, he certainly embodies the spirit of giving voice to the voiceless, much like the whiskered creature that rises from the stump to question and halt an act of deforestation.
Here on Bainbridge Island, we don't have any native Truffula trees, but we do have trees — and lots of them! Environmental, educational and cultural organizations such as IslandWood, the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, and Sustainable Bainbridge have for several years collaborated with Dr Ribeiro on many community events.  You might be familiar with Olaf’s wildly popular Historic Tree Walks of Downtown Winslow, and I gather – a tree walks to Crystal Springs soon too?  Olaf was instrumental in organizing our island's first-ever Earth Month Bainbridge Island, now an annual event, that serves as an umbrella for much non-profit organization’s programs about Arbor Day and Earth Day.   
Our island needs advocates and a citizenry that is informed and engaged in the protection of our natural resources. Dr Ribeiro walks his own talk every day as he collaborates with groups and individuals to think about intentional growth, lobbies City Hall for stronger protections for trees, plants saplings in our public parks, and like a mad-scientist, mixes up microbe-mycelial cocktails to save heritage trees in Downtown Winslow by healing their root systems. His generosity is bar-none. He gives from his heart, he's tenacious, and most importantly he loves Bainbridge Island.
Dr Ribeiro is certainly one of History’s Heroes.  I’m also proud he is my mentor and my friend.
His expertise, generosity of spirit and humour inspire us every day.
Thank you, Olaf!

Christina Doherty

Olaf K. Ribeiro
B.S. (Agr.), M.S. (Plant Pathology), PhD (Plant Pathology & Genetics). Diploma in Tropical Agriculture.
Certification - Community College Teaching Credentials, State of California (Biological and Botanical Sciences.
Certification of Achievement: U. S. Department of State, Agency for International Development.
Personnel Training Certificate: EPA Good Laboratory Practice Standards.

Over 30 years experience in diagnosing plant & tree health problems both, in the U.S and overseas.

Published a “Sourcebook of the genus Phytophthora (1978) 420 pp. Presently used in over 70 countries.

Co-author with Dr Don Erwin (University of California), of the book Phytophthora Diseases Worldwide published by APS Press (1996). 592 pp. 2nd. Edition 2005. Presently used in over 80 countries.

Published the book  “Composts, Amendments and Nutrient in relation to Increasing or Decreasing Plant Pathogens” 2018. 208 pages. Available on

Published over 50 scientific papers in refereed international journals. Also published several popular articles on Plant Diseases and on the Dynamic Interactions between Microbes, Soil and Roots.  

Invited speaker at numerous National & International meetings and conferences.

Presented seminars to Arborists nationally and internationally on Tree Health.

History Hero Award presented by the Bainbridge Historical Museum.
Hometown Hero Award presented by the Bainbridge Symphony Orchestra.
Environmentalist Award – Assoc. of Bainbridge Communities 2015
Education Award from the International Society of Arboriculture, PNW Chapter. 2010
Wall Street Journal Front Page – Oct. 13, 2006. God Can Make Tree, But Olaf Ribeiro Can Save its Life.
NBC Today Show- July 17, 2007. Tree Doc –  An American Story. Bob Dotson.
Featured on Channel 5 Evening Magazine for saving historic cherry trees. October 2007. 
Cherry Blossom Award by the Consul General of Japan for work in saving historic cherry trees. April 18, 2008
Featured as one of the Island Stewards in,  In Praise of Island Stewards  by Joel Sackett. 1998.                    

Former owner of Ribeiro Plant Lab, Inc. an Agr/Horticultural/ Arboricultural Consulting & Plant Disease Diagnostic Company based on Bainbridge Island, WA and of Ribeiro Tree Evaluations, Inc. Now owner of Ribeiro Consultants.

Member of the:
American Phytopathological Society, International Society of Plant Pathology, International Society of Arboriculture, Sigma XI (Research Honorary), Former Member of the Certifying Board of the American Registry of Certified Professionals in Agronomy, Crops & Soils. Murden Cove Preservation Association (President) 

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