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Remembering Dr. Keith Cooksey, Founding Board Member of ABO

We are deeply saddened to report the passing of algae icon Dr. Keith Cooksey, who died in early September. Keith was a founding Board Member of the Algae Biomass Organization and a member of the original steering committee that first met on April 23, 2008 to consider how to form an organization to advance the vast potential of algae.

ABO’s original Board of Directors.

The ABO Board of Directors had its first meeting September 11, 2008. Keith was Co-Chair, with John Benemann, of the Peer Review Committee and a member of the Technical Standards Committee, serving as Co-Chair of the Technical Standards project, from the Minimum Descriptive Language 4.0 documentation that was released in 2011, through the Industrial Algae Measurements 8.0 that was published in October 2017.

When Keith stepped off the ABO Board in May 2012 he was appointed, by resolution of the Board, Director Emeritus, the only director to date to receive this appointment.

Dr. Cooksey accepting the Emeritus Director recognition at the 2012 Algae Biomass Summit

Keith also took it upon himself to discipline everyone involved with ABO in the proper use of the terms “alga”, “algal”, and “algae”, which was memorialized in a joke told by comedian and U.S. Senator Al Franken in a keynote address at the 2011 Algae Biomass Summit held in Minneapolis.  

His PhD from the University of Birmingham was based around industrializing the process of beer fermentation and his PhD advisor was the brewmaster of Bass Ale in England. He moved his family to Bozeman, Montana in 1982 and began a long association with Montana State University. Keith and his wife Barbara worked together on marine diatoms from the early 1970’s. According their son Nick, Barbara was the green thumb of the two of them when it came to working with algae. Some of the original work on nile red staining and lipid measurement they did in the mid 80’s for the Aquatic Species Program was done on cultures she had kept going since the 70’s.  She was also responsible for training all of his grad students over the years on the care and feeding of the algal cultures. Barbara passed away in 2016. 

Keith’s other passion in life was rugby. He helped start, played for, and/or coached several teams over the years both here in the states and back in England. He roped several grad students, postdocs (and both his sons of course) into playing, or at least into coming to watch and then have a beer afterwards. He was known by more people around the university as “Coach Keith” then he was as “Dr. Cooksey”.  Towards the end, when a hospice worker asked him about his religion, he told them to put “rugby”.  He played the same position, tight-head prop in the front row of the scrum, for 40 years.  He was selected for the under-18 national team in England in the 1950’s and had dreams of playing for a “senior” team where if you were over 70 you couldn’t be tackled. When he was bed bound in the end, his son Nick would set him up with England rugby games on Youtube every time he went to see him. 

Keith was a mentor and friend to many in the algae research community, he will be missed, but his knowledge and enthusiasm for algae lives on in the many grad students and postdocs that worked with him over the years.  

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