Home > Awards > Past Award Winners > 2006 (Romer-Simpson Medal) William A. Clemens

2006 Romer-Simpson Medal Recipient

William A. Clemens

2006 Romer-Simpson Medal Recipient My introduction to vertebrate paleontology came when, as a boy, I visited my grandfather’s homestead in Goshen Hole, eastern Wyoming. Around the homestead dark blue fragments of titanothere enamel and cream colored fragments of bone weathering out of richly fossiliferous exposures of the Chadron Formation piqued my curiosity. Many years later at the University of California a course taught by R.A. Stirton (Stirt) revitalized and expanded my interest in fossil vertebrates.

During my first year in graduate school at Berkeley I had the common dilemma of searching for a dissertation research project. Although it would be news to me, events of the preceding summer offered a remarkable opportunity. While working on the Four Mile fauna of Colorado — this project involved Malcolm's pioneering application of the underwater screening technique to early Cenozoic deposits — Malcolm McKenna, Don Savage, and Les Kent wanted a change in scene. They told me that they chose to go to eastern Wyoming and prospect in the Lance Formation in hopes of finding a few — but not too many — interesting fossil mammals. Their hopes were unexpectedly shattered by Les' discovery of the richly fossiliferous site that became known as Lull 2 quarry. Richard Estes and I had the opportunity to apply underwater screening to this and subsequently discovered localities and study the resulting large collections of microvertebrates. This opportunity set me on the trail of Mesozoic mammals, an area of research that continues to occupy my interest.

At Berkeley I was able to gain from studying with Don Savage — who tolerantly was my major professor — Stirt, Charles Camp, Sam Welles, Ralph Chaney, and Howell Williams, to mention just a few members of the faculty. By chance I became a member of a remarkable group of graduate students. In addition to Richard and Malcolm, Dick Tedford, Les Marcus, Dave Webb, Jack Wolfe, Jane Gray, and many others contributed to a stimulating program at Berkeley. My experiences in graduate school highlighted the values of a strong academic program covering the diverse fields of paleontology that integrated relevant areas of the earth and biological sciences and was bolstered by the support of field and laboratory research provided by a paleontological museum. As a member of the faculty and a museum curator — first at the University of Kansas and then back at Berkeley — I have worked toward continued development of diverse research and teaching programs.

Through the years I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to work with a large number of very talented students who have certainly expanded my academic horizons. It is a pleasure to be able to sit back and benefit from their continuing contributions to our field. For over 30 years many of my students and I have worked in eastern Montana gaining from the experience and talents of an avocational paleontologist, Harley Garbani. Bob Makela and Jack Horner introduced us to the microvertebrate faunas of the Judith River Formation. More recently we have benefited from being part of Jack's Hell Creek Project. Also I have had the opportunity to gain from time spent working with colleagues at University College London, Royal Holloway College, and the Natural History Museum in London as well as paleontological institutes in Munich and Bonn. In sum, yes, I am a great believer in the many values of collaborative research projects.

The SVP has played a major role in my career. The first annual meeting I attended was in Ann Arbor in 1958. About 30 to 40 of us gathered in a classroom. The sequence of talks was determined by calling on the participants in sequence according to where they sat in the room. The chair's admonition that contributions should be brief — 10 to 15 minutes — fell on deaf ears. How different a meeting from the one we have enjoyed in Ottawa! Some have argued that we should go back to the old style. I am not one of them. Our society has changed, and I think for the better. We are now an international group of over 2,000 members including dynamic groups of student members, avocational paleontologists, and paleoartists. The SVP now advances our research through expanded annual meetings and publication of the premier journal in our field. It has an increasingly active program of supporting student members. Many members are actively and effectively dealing with the challenges of teaching science â?? particularly evolutionâ??in our public schools. Others are working toward the development of new laws concerning the collection of vertebrate fossils on State and Federal lands. I am honored to be a member of this active, evolving society.

Finally it is a pleasure to acknowledge the support I have received from my wife, Dorothy, and our children. Through the years they have tolerated my absences on field projects and those long night stands when I retreated to my study to finish a lecture or put the final polish on a manuscript. Above all we share pleasant memories of gatherings at our home of paleontologists from many corners of the world.

Photo courtesy of William A. Clemens.