Endowed directorship named in honor of Ira Rubinoff

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has named the endowed directorship of STRI for Director Emeritus, Ira Rubinoff.

STRI director Matthew C. Larsen announced in March that the endowed directorship of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute is now named the Ira Rubinoff Director, in honor of STRI’s director emeritus. Larsen made the announcement via a video March 20 presented at a private dinner in Vienna for STRI’s benefactors and Ira and Anabella Rubinoff, who is currently serving as Panama’s Ambassador to Austria.

Rubinoff with foliage in the background

Ira Ribinoff, Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Ira Rubinoff is a strong proponent of the importance of scientific inquiry and the need for scientists to hold secure positions free from economic and political constraints.

“I was very much surprised and deeply honored,” said Rubinoff in an e-mail to Larsen.

“Ira, you set the standard of leadership that all future STRI directors will try to live up to,” said Larsen in the video. “It is appropriate that we will have your name as our inspiration and lasting encouragement in this role, to remind us of your example. The new endowment represents a life-long bond of friendship that enabled STRI to flourish and develop its potential during your long tenure.”

Rubinoff’s decades of scientific and diplomatic leadership were recognized in Science (July 2001) as key to STRI’s success and prominence among tropical research institutions throughout the world. He has served on the boards of a number of national and international conservation organizations, including the Ciudad del Saber and the Fundación NATURA and the Mpala Wildlife Foundation.

In 2008, Rubinoff was awarded the Smithsonian Secretary’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service to the Institution, and in July 2011, SI Secretary Wayne Clough presented Rubinoff with the Institution’s highest distinction, the Joseph Henry Medal, given by the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents to individuals in recognition of their distinguished service, achievements, or contributions to the Smithsonian’s prestige and growth.

From left, Dr. Cristían Samper (Director, National Museum of Natural History); Dr. Ira Rubinoff (Director Emeritus, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) and Dr. G. Wayne Clough (The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution). Photo by Hugh Talman.

From left, Dr. Cristían Samper (Director, National Museum of Natural History); Dr. Ira Rubinoff (Director Emeritus, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) and Dr. G. Wayne Clough (The Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution). Photo by Hugh Talman.

Rubinoff left the STRI directorship in 2008 and retired from STRI in 2018, creating the opportunity to recognize his legacy of leadership through a named chair. STRI’s benefactors took steps to petition the Board of Regents to name the STRI director’s position the Ira Rubinoff Director. The Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents approved this new name at their meeting on January 28, 2019.

Larsen, who became the director of STRI in 2014, will be the first to hold the title of Ira Rubinoff Director.  He came to Panama from the U.S. Geological Survey, where he served as Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change, and led science programs focused on climate change, land use change and a national ecological carbon sequestration assessment. Additionally, Larsen managed the Landsat satellite program and the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center.

Both Rubinoff and Larsen play an important part in a regional renaissance in science, technology and conservation. Larsen continues the Rubinoff legacy of recruiting, developing, and engaging an inclusive scientific community that advances scientific frontiers across a broad range of disciplines. This scientific community now includes 30 staff scientists, 90 Research Associate scientists, and more than 1,000 collaborating scientists, students, interns and post-doctoral fellows—a scientific community that represents more than 50 countries around the world.

Laresn and Rubinoff behind cutout of big cat

Matthew Larsen, left, director of the Smithsonian Tropical research Institute and Director Emeritus Ira Rubinoff pose in a STRI educational exhibit featuring (one hopes) a larger-than-life jaguar.

Posted: 23 April 2019
About the Author:

Elisabeth King is a science interpreter for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. In Panama since 1992, Beth bridges the gap between research scientists and diverse audiences. She has created bilingual exhibitions, written press releases and fielded questions from reporters, hosted journalists and presented STRI research to audiences ranging from school kids to ambassadors.