Remembering Joan DeFato Our Librarian 1973-2004
By Susan C. Eubank, Arboretum Librarian
Joan DeFato, who had great impact on the Arboretum community and the world at large during her 31 years as our Plant Science Librarian, passed away January 20, 2017. She was the quintessential reference librarian, working questions like a detective on a case. She delighted in finding the answers and helping the questioner. Joan brought joy to her work and to visitors and her co-workers at Arboretum and to colleagues in horticulture circles and the library profession.
“The words coming in from those who worked with Joan for many years are consistent … any question asked was always met with a warm smile and an armful of resource materials. Secondary questions received equal attention, and no detail was too small to escape Joan’s eagle eye. That piercing eye was always on the prize, and that prize was knowledge and the ability to access that precious commodity. A steely determination and readiness to take on all challenges helped Joan DeFato succeed in her life’s work, but the icing on that cake was her gleeful relish in accomplishing the deed. Rest in peace, dear Joan, and know that both your work and your spirit live on,” said Sandy Snider, retired Associate Curator (History), at the Arboretum.
There was always that enthusiastic smile that showed how she cared for the person as well as their quest. I first met Joan in 1992 at my first meeting as member of Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries in Columbus, Ohio. We bonded over our mutual love of Los Angeles, the LA Arboretum, and its plants. When I became the librarian at the Arboretum she immediately offered help and guidance.
Joan spent 46 years overall in the library business at a medical library, the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and 31 years helping residents in the Los Angeles and beyond, understand plants, their necessity and impact in our lives. She was recognized for her extraordinary service as a board member of both the Southern California Chapter of the Special Libraries Association and the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries.
She also was a longtime board member of the Pacific Horticultural Foundation and the Southern California Horticultural Society, receiving the Society’s highest award for Horticulturist of the Year. Pacific Horticulture Magazine, the Council on Botanical and Horticulture Libraries, the Southern California Horticultural Society and many publications at the Arboretum were made better with her editing and other publication skills.
“I’m deeply saddened to hear of her passing. She was a lovely, vibrant woman who inspired the people around her. Joan, our hats are off to you. May you rest in peace,” said Suzi Teghtmeyer, Agriculture, Botany, Forestry & Horticulture Librarian, Michigan State University
“I remember Joan DeFato fondly as a piler, not a filer. My coworker and I quickly dubbed her with the moniker “Goddess of Information,” for her uncanny way of going to the piles or the bookshelves, opening the book or periodical, turning to the page and pointing to the information that was requested…EVERYTIME. She had the card catalog embedded in her brain; a true human library computer.
I continued to see Joan after her retirement and she was always there to celebrate life achievements and lend a hand with my dad’s genealogy searches. I was fortunate and truly blessed to have the opportunity to see Joan the day before she lost her fight with cancer. Before I left I held Joan’s hand, (she had a surprisingly strong grip). As I write this, the tears flow, but I take comfort in knowing that my life, along with so many others, was touched by the Goddess of Information. I wish Joan was around to edit this!”–Julie Norman, Senior Arboretum Gardener (Orchids)
“I met Joan thanks to CBHL, and I remember being very impressed on first meeting her in the late 1980s and being told by another CBHL friend that Joan was a whitewater rafter. Well, wow! Joan always seemed to me to be one of the superlibrarians in our midst, someone to learn from and look up to. She was fun to be around, always cheerful, and kind and generous, too.
She was also a longtime friend of Bea Beck, former librarian at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, and she brought me to visit Bea and see Bea’s garden last time CBHL met in L.A. It was a treat to see those two together and to see how helpful Joan was for Bea. Also, like Bea, Joan was into genealogy and very generous with genealogical research tips, pointers, advice, and encouragement. She was a superlibrarian!
It’s sad to lose her, but very good to have known her even just a bit and to know her as someone fully alive in a very full and helpful life.” —Charlotte A. Tancin, Librarian, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation
Here is a list of articles about Joan in the Arboretum Publications Archive.