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Robb Leary

Robb F. Leary

Monday, April 11th, 1955 - Monday, July 27th, 2020
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Obituary

Robb Francis Leary of Missoula, MT passed on to that great fishing ground in the sky on Monday
July 27, 2020 after a long battle with several health issues. Robb was born on April 11, 1955 in
Hartford, CT to his father Frank R. Leary, Jr and his mother Arloa Dean Leary. He spent his
childhood in the northern CT towns of Suffield and Windsor Locks. In high school Robb won
championships in cross country, the mile run, and the 4x440 relay. He continued running as a key
member of the University of Massachusetts track team until a knee injury brought that career to
an end during his sophomore year. He treasured the memory of running the mile on the fabled
indoor track at Madison Square Garden in a race that included future Olympic and world champion
Eamonn Coughlin. Robb achieved his goal of keeping the Irishman’s trademark bright green
shorts within short distance. Robb’s lifelong love of fish and fishing developed during his
summers spent at the family summer home on Dean Islands in Lake Champlain in the town of
Charlotte, VT and during his school year expeditions to the wild tributaries of the Farmington
River in CT.
Upon his graduation from Windsor Locks HS in 1973 Robb enrolled at the University of
Massachusetts in Amherst and received his BS degree in 1977. He earned his MS degree in Natural
Resources at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point in 1979 and in 1981 Robb moved to
Missoula where he began work on his PhD under the supervision of Dr. Fred Allendorf at the
University of Montana. Through the ensuing years Robb helped set up one of the first fish genetics
laboratories. During this time George Holton of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks recognized the
power of the newly developing field of fishery genetics to help identify remaining populations of
native fish in Montana, and he worked closely with Fred and Robb to start a statewide genetic
survey of Montana’s native trout populations that has resulted in one of the most intensive and
extensive databases on native trout genetics anywhere in the world. Robb led the University of
Montana’s Fish Conservation Genetics Laboratory, which later became the Montana Fish
Conservation Genetics Laboratory in collaboration with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, from
the 1980s until he retired in October 2019 due to health reasons. He maintained his affiliation with
that lab throughout his retirement.
Robb is recognized as a leader in fish genetic techniques and he pioneered many of the protein
electrophoresis methodologies to do these analyses. Robb worked tirelessly to ensure that all fish
samples sent to his laboratory were analyzed in a timely fashion and that the results were
provided to fish biologists and conservationists for their use in the management and conservation
of native fish populations.
As one of the few geneticists in the region and a recognized expert, Robb was often asked to
serve on committees making management recommendations on conservation and fish
management. Robb sought to fulfill all of these requests and gave a great deal of his personal
time to travel all over Montana and the West to serve on these committees. He became so
valuable in this role that Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks hired him in 2007 to help them better
incorporate genetic information into their management decisions.
Robb loved to teach, and he was amazingly good at it. He taught college courses, both graduate
and undergraduate, and he mentored many undergraduate and graduate students. He taught
fisheries genetics for years at the US Fish & Wildlife National Conservation Training Center in
West Virginia. Robb was always willing to sit down with colleagues and fisheries professionals
to explain complex genetic theories in understandable terms. He collaborated with several
international colleagues and traveled to Russia to work with a team of their scientists. Robb
fought off a fear of public speaking because he had important things to say and was a true
scientific advocate for the conservation of native fish. He used his mastery of genetics to help
others understand why it is so important to protect each population. He persistently reminded his
colleagues not to fritter away their resources on the protection of “bastards” because those are
not the species that need to be conserved.
Robb published much of his research and many of his papers are seminal works in native fish
conservation. He won the prestigious Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize from the Society for the
Study of Evolution in 1984 for his dissertation research. Robb cared passionately about native
fish and that enthusiasm defined his life and his career. In February 2020 Robb’s legacy was
recognized by the Montana Chapter of the American Fisheries Society who presented him with
their Career Achievement Award.
Robb was predeceased by both of his parents in 2007 and by his youngest brother Michael in
2009. He is survived by brother Steve and his daughter Kyla of Hinesburg VT; brother Dean and
his wife Donna of Charlotte VT and their children Leon and Robyn; sister Dianne and her
husband James of Charlotte VT and their children Alex and Dianne; deceased brother Michael’s
wife Diane and her two children from a previous marriage William and Kirsten Moore; uncle
Richard Leary; aunt Lorna Brown; and by many cousins and other relatives in a wonderful
extended family.
Robb would be happy to know that his legacy of work in fisheries, genetics, education, and the
study of native species will most certainly continue in the years ahead through the efforts of his
colleagues and those he mentored throughout his spectacular career. All those who enjoy the
gifts of mother nature and the survival of her wild native species, especially those who fish
Montana’s fabled trout waters, owe a debt of gratitude to Robb’s tireless efforts to preserve his
beloved Westslope Cutthroat trout and other native fish.
Due to the current pandemic a celebration of Robb’s life and career are temporarily on hold.
Robb’s final arrangements are being handled by the Garden City Funeral home in Missoula.
Contact with his family can be made via email to sleary@gmavt.net and with his professional
colleagues via email to fred.allendorf@gmail.com.
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