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Remembering Ray and Lyn Forster

ray lyn forster web

Both Ray and Lyn Forster were eminent arachnologists (spider experts) and authors of numerous publications on this topic. Ray’s work with spiders earned him a Fellowship of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1961, the Hutton Medal in 1971 and the Hector Medal in 1983. Together with Lyn, he published the book, Spiders of New Zealand, featuring a review of their lifetimes’ work.

Lyn Forster was a lecturer and tutor of zoology at the Otago University. She was also an enthusiastic educator and her granddaughter, Natalie, recalls Lyn’s talk on spiders at her school where her classmates described her as the "coolest grandma ever!”

Daughter Marjorie’s first remembrance of her mother in association with the Museum is a bit different – she recalls the annual Christmas staff parties hosted at their home in St Clair. “Mum prepared food for days in advance and I remember sneaking tastes when she wasn’t looking – there were strict instructions about not eating the party food broadcast throughout the house”, she recollects.

Lyn’s contributions to the Museum weren’t limited to hosting great parties and cooking delicious food, she was also very active in public education through exhibitions and science communication at the Museum. “When the exhibition with all the spider and insect displays was put together, Mum did a lot of the work herself and spent hours designing sets and interactive displays,” says Marjorie.

“Mum was very active in Museum education programs for children and I remember coming to the Museum after classes for a drive home, and Mum was on the stage of the auditorium with a large group of children below and she was singing a song she had written herself about spiders to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star… the words were written out on a large flip chart and she was urging all the children to join in. At the time I was appalled (embarrassed) but in retrospect I can see how dynamic and creative she was.”

Marjorie says that her parents’ lives revolved around the Museum and their love for spiders was not only apparent in the famous and impressively large collection of spiders donated to the Museum, but also at their home. Ray’s research room always smelled of alcohol and preservatives, remembers Marjorie. Spiders not only occupied Ray’s study, but were often found in the fridge where they were placed to hibernate for the ease of photography. “It was a shocking sight however when I brought friends home for cordial and biscuits,” Marjorie recollects.

 forster hall plaque

Image: The Forster Hall plaque which hangs in the Otago Museum’s Nature galleries in honour of Dr Raymond R Forster. By Natalie Forster.

Next time you’re in the Museum, look out for the Forster Hall plaque in the Nature galleries which honours the directorship of Ray Forster. On the occasion of the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the contributions of Lyn Forster highlight the prominent role played by women in our community.

Top image: Lyn and Ray Forster, courtesy of the Otago Daily Times.