I had the privilege of knowing Laurent over a 10 year period. Soon after I arrived in Berkeley, in 1999, I received a letter from a young Belgian asking to come to California as a visiting scientist, courtesy of the Belgian government, for three months. He had performed PhD work with the MAIDEN model and I needed someone to try and put soil physics and water movement in the CANOAK model for the Mediterranean oaks I wanted to study in California. . With a small and new lab, I was happy to entertain this offer and we enjoyed interacting with him during this first sojourn. And he then returned home. I had no idea about the future impact he’d have on my life.
About a year or so later, Allen Goldstein needed a postdoc for his Blodgett forest study. He received an application from Laurent and asked me if he should hire him. ‘Of course’, I said. Laurent was great to work with and is really interested in your project. So Laurent arrived in Berkeley, with the ‘force of Nature’. His energy and work ethic was amazing. While working on the Blodgett project he ended up doing the work of three. He lead efforts to analyze a long-term database on carbon, water flux measurements over ponderosa pine, he was responsible for continuing and expanding that dataset, he created a new dataset on measurements on leaf photosynthesis with the LICOR 6400, he initiated a set of forest understory flux measurements with an understory flux system and worked on soil respiration studies. He was a constant presence in my lab, working collaborating with the postdocs and students in my lab (Alex Knohl, Jorge Curiel, Jianwu Tang, Siyan Ma, Matthias Falk, Liukang Xu) and Todd Dawson’s (Kevin Tu).
Laurent arrived in Berkeley during the real estate bubble. He had to decide whether to spend most of his salary on an apartment or sail. He chose sailing. He ended up buying and living on a sail boat (about 8 m) which was berthed at the Richmond Marina. Allen Goldstein and I had the wonderful pleasure of sailing with him one fine day on San Francisco Bay, sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and side by side the Oracle boats which will defend the next America’s Cup. Quite an experience. At the end of the day, we got to go home. Laurent had a different fate. The ‘head’ on his boat got quite a churning that day, which needed cleaning and I am sure it was not a pleasant place to sleep in that night. But he took to the task with spirit and good cheer.
I got to know Laurent best these most recent years, after he returned to France and joined the DREAM team at CNRS-CEFE in Montpellier, France. My wife, Nicole, is French-American, so we love to spend sabbatical times in France. Laurent was gracious to offer us the chance to come to Montpellier, and so we spent autumn, 2007 in his lab. There we interacted daily discussing FLUXNET synthesis projects and trying to understand how Mediterranean oak ecosystems worked that ended up as a paper on the ‘advantages and disadvantages of evergreeness and decidiousness’.
What is wonderful about life in France is the collegiality of the teams. Everyone dines together at lunch, so you get to know people better. Through our conversations, I found Laurent to be more than just a ‘wonk’ scientist. He was very much an intellectual, scholar and outdoorsmand. He was a regular reader of the New Yorker and could converse across a wide range of topics from music, philosophy and politics. He also biked, mountain climbed and of course sailed. As a host, he proved to be a very considerate and gracious. I had a meeting in Holland and left my wife in Montpellier. Laurent called her up and invited her to dinner. She was super impressed and appreciative of this gesture, and they had a great time speaking in French. And later that Fall when our friends, Joe and Debbie, arrived from California, Laurent invited us all to dinner at his small flat. He proved to be an excellent cook, as well as an entertaining host. And we can never forget the evening, Nicole and I entertained Laurent and Thibaut Scholasch for dinner at our apartment. Together they had us laughing all night with stories. So it is on this positive note I end this tribute. Laurent has clearly made our lives better and I am honored to have known and worked with him. May he rest in peace.