Albert W. Collier was born in Nowata, Oklahoma, on December 12, 1910. He earned his B.A. degree in biology from Rice Institute, Houston, Texas, in 1933. He began graduate studies at the same university, but the Great Depression caused him to halt those studies to provide family support by going to work.
Albert's amazing and varied professional career began in 1935 as a marine biologist with the Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission (TGFOC) in Rockport, Texas. In 1939, he left Rockport to accept a position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Alaska, where he studied salmon until 1942. With the outbreak of U.S. involvement in World War II, Albert was transferred to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he became a member of a team studying the Gulf of Mexico shrimp industry. After only a short time in New Orleans, Albert transferred his civil service position to the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, which he served until 1944. In that position, he served in the Gyro Instruments and Graphic Arts Divisions. This experience accounts for Albert’s extensive knowledge of scientific instrumentation, and that and his natural talents explain his ability to design and modify instruments for research.
Again, Albert deferred his scientific interests to assist his family’s mercantile business in Rockport, Texas, as manager of the seafood portion of the enterprise. He leased 100 acres of sub-merged land in Aransas Bay, and worked with the TGFOC as he transferred oysters from nearby overcrowded reefs to his reef. At that time, he was the largest commercial oyster farmer in the area. During that period, he served as mayor of Rockport. However, his absence from the scientific re-search did not last long.
In mid-1946, Gulf Oil Corporation sought Albert’s assistance in conducting its investigation of allegations that petroleum activities in coastal Louisiana were responsible for massive oyster mortality in that state. While working on the Louisiana oyster problem, Albert was the leader in two landmark biological discoveries. He was one of three investigators who independently discovered that a previously-unknown protistan parasite was the cause of the abnormal oyster mortality (Mack-in, J.G., H. Malcolm Owen, and Albert Collier, 1950, Preliminary note on the occurrence of a new protistan parasite, Dermocystidium marinum n. sp. [now known as Perkinsus marinus] in Crasso-strea virginica (Gmelin), Science, 111 (2883): 328-329). Another significant contribution during this period was the elucidation of the role of “dissolved organic matter” in the nutrition and other activities of marine organisms.
In late 1950, Albert joined the newly-established U.S. FWS laboratory in Galveston, Texas. In a short time, he became the Director of that laboratory. As Chief of the U.S. FWS Gulf Fishery Investigations, he provided the leadership and stimulus for another important scientific discovery—this time for providing indisputable evidence that the marine dinoflagellate, Gymnodinium breve, was the cause of the fish-killing phenomenon in the Gulf of Mexico known as Florida Red Tide.
In 1956, when Texas A&M University decided to increase its presence in Galveston, Texas, the Oceanography Department recruited Albert to launch the A&M Marine Laboratory. At that time, Building 311, Fort Crockett, was a long-neglected facility infested with rats, roaches, and pig- eons. Despite a poor level of institutional funding, he was able to obtain U. S. National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to transform the World War II building into a respectable research and educational facility. There was no money for office furniture—the maintenance man built Albert's desk from plywood—and the building was not air-conditioned until he obtained building renovation funds from the NSF.
Albert’s reputation as a “can do” builder of marine facilities led Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee, Florida, to invite him to become Director of its Oceanographic Institute. Thus, in October 1962, Albert took his several research projects and his research team, except for Sammy Ray, to FSU. Until his retirement in 1976, as Emeritus Professor of Biology, Albert was heavily involved in teaching and research in marine biology and oceanography at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He also directed the work of graduate students, 13 and 6 of whom were awarded M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, respectively. During that period, he was also heavily involved in research related to underwater warfare for the U.S. Navy. In addition, he served as Chairmen of the Committee for Naval Research that reviewed and evaluated research proposals.
Following retirement from FSU, Albert served as Visiting Scholar at the University of Arizona in Tucson, for three years. He was active in research in marine biology centered in the Gulf of California. His most notable achievement during that period was the publication of a manual of sea animals of the Gulf of California, which was illustrated with 150 of Albert's pen and ink drawings. In 1982, he retired to Green Valley, Arizona, to enjoy his numerous hobbies, including painting, writing, music, and billiards.
Albert was fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Founding Fellow of the American Institute of Fishery Research Biologists, and a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Fisheries Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, the Biological Photographic Association, the Ecological Society of America, the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, the National Shell-fisheries Association, the Scottish Marine Biological Association, and the Texas Hall of Fame for Science, Mathematics and Technology.
Albert had a passion for education, and he deeply appreciated the role that good teaching plays in one’s life. An example of his passion for education, in regard to AIFRB (provided by Bernard E. Skud): in a letter dated July 1, 1956, to W. F. Thompson, after reviewing the draft articles of incorporation, Collier noted, “In the case of education standards I would like to see the requirement for schooling in the liberal arts spelled out. If our profession is to rise above the technician category, and its members are to represent themselves and their organizations as they should, a broad and solid academic background is essential.”
Another indication of Albert's love of education is noted in his acceptance speech on the occasion of his induction into the Texas Hall of Fame for Science, Mathematics and Technology on January 20, 2003. Albert Collier: “As I ponder the course of the professional career that brings me here, I am awed by the ups and downs, the sharp rights and lefts, and more u-turns than I care to recall. I wonder what carried me through all of that. The answer is good teachers.” Then Albert proceeded to name specific teachers at each level of education and their specific contributions to his development from elementary school through college at Rice University. Albert is a rare example of an individual who was successful in an academic situation with-out the benefit of an “academic union card,” a Ph.D. degree. Unfortunately, the lack of this academic credential made him vulnerable to academics with Ph.D. degrees who were ready to take over his creations. Fortunately for Albert, however, there were always new scientific and academic endeavors in need of his perseverance and creativity to “breathe life” into, whether it be an infant or struggling project.
Albert was willing to accept the challenge of difficult projects that most seasoned or high-profile scientists would reject because of either low personal compensation or inadequate support to successfully achieve the proposed objectives. Because of his successful scientific and academic accomplishments, he was often addressed as “Dr. Collier,” which always resulted in the quick response, “I don’t have a Ph.D. degree.” The recipients of this denial were often shocked to learn that a person lacking a Ph.D. degree could make scientific contributions as significant as those of Albert Collier. Albert W. Collier died in San Antonio, Texas, on November 28, 2009, at the age of 98.
Anonymous. 2009. Herbert W. Graham [obituary]. AIFRB Briefs, 38 (1): 5-6.
Skud, Bernard. 2007. Herbert W. Graham: happy 102nd birthday!! AIFRB Briefs, 36 (5): 6-7.
Personal communications: Teri Frade, Karen Heise-Gentile, Suzan Oliver, Bernard E. Skud.