On January 24, 2022, Sue Piper Duckles passed away, and our CNPS East Bay chapter and native plant community lost a wonderful weed warrior and friend. Sue was an active chapter member and a particularly dedicated and skilled restoration volunteer. In her long tenure with our organization, she served on the chapter board as recording secretary, volunteered at Native Here Nursery, and was a champion for restoration work across the East Bay. Her restored native garden and her sister Cherie Donahue’s adjoining native garden were on the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour eight times.
In her professional life, Sue was an internationally esteemed neuroscientist and pharmacologist known for her important contributions to the understanding of sex differences and hormonal influences in vascular function and age-related diseases like stroke. She had a PhD in pharmacology and toxicology and during her career was an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology at UCLA, a pharmacology faculty member in the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and for 25 years prior to her retirement a professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the UC Irvine School of Medicine. She received many national and international awards and accolades for her work, and in keeping with her generous nature was dedicated to supporting and mentoring junior scientists.
Sue also left an indelible mark on the conservation and native plant communities. Her passion and energy for restoration work inspired those around her, and she had a gift for making good conversation with her fellow volunteers as they tackled invasive plants together. Members who knew her recall Sue fondly as down-to-earth, calm, and warm—and always ready to work, in her denim coveralls and accompanied by her standard poodle, Daisy.
Renowned Oakland Hills weed warrior Wendy Tokuda described Sue as “not just an ordinary volunteer—she was significant” and noted Sue’s commitment to the environment. “She really believed in the work and public service.”
In addition to her work for our CNPS East Bay chapter, Sue volunteered for a number of other nonprofits that protect and restore parkland and habitat in the Oakland Hills—Friends of Joaquin Miller Park, Friends of Sausal Creek, and Butters Canyon Conservancy—and she was a monthly regular pulling broom at Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. A staunch believer in the importance of native plant conservation, she even spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle to extoll the physical benefits of restoration work.
Sue was born and raised in Oakland and found joy in her childhood backyard, which was shaded by redwoods and oaks and which she regarded as a beautiful wilderness. When Sue returned to the Bay Area, she and her husband purchased the house next door to her childhood home, where her sister Cherie lives. Sue and Cherie embarked on a massive restoration project in their adjacent gardens, removing the ivy that had invaded their parents’ original native garden and was climbing up the majestic oaks and redwoods. Over time, their gardens evolved, with local natives even reappearing on their own.
Sue’s work in restoring her garden expanded to include helping restore Butters Canyon downslope from her home. After she retired, she became an active board member of the Butters Canyon Conservancy, which has legally protected the steep canyon surrounding the headwaters of Peralta Creek and works to enhance the ecological integrity and sustainability of the habitat.
Sue spent her life loving and stewarding the plant communities of the East Bay hills, and in doing so she became a special part of our CNPS community as well. We miss her.
— Jane Francis, Corresponding Secretary, CNPS East Bay Chapter