2005 Romer-Simpson Medal Recipient
Donald E. Russell
The name of Don Russell is synonymous with the highest quality of paleontological research, particularly on the Paleogene and its mammals. He led the way toward the biostatigraphic framework that has placed intercontinental correlation, particularly between North America and Europe, on an accurate footing. His innovative field projects were aimed across a broad range of paleontological subjects, and his sustained and productive career, extending back to the late 1950s, has provided the firm base on which a host of later studies on the Eurasian Paleogene were grounded.
Don's early field work, 1957-1960, centered on French Paleocene mammalian faunas found in the vicinity of Cernay-les-Reins, which were not well understood prior to his work. Don utilized classic excavation procedures in his field area, but notably he introduced the first screen washing techniques to the fossiliferous deposits of France. His analysis of the new collections led to his doctoral thesis, "Les Mammifères Paléocènes d'Europe," which was published in 1964 as Mémoir 13 of the National Museum of Natural History.
After his initial studies of the Paleocene, it was natural to progress to work on the Eocene. Results included a series of studies with Don Savage, P. Louis, J. Sudre, and others on various European Eocene faunas. Working in the Paleogene, he was very aware of the important faunal changes at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, as well as of the problems of establishing accurate temporal correlation on a worldwide scale. Don followed his interests in biogeography as applied to mammalian faunal movements by extending his field and research investigations to Asia and Africa, where he expanded his temporal sweep into the Mesozoic.
One of Don's first synthetic studies was his paper in 1982, with co-workers, "Mammals and Stratigraphy: the Paleogene of Europe." Working under the difficulties inherent in European Paleogene deposits, where surface exposures tend to be limited and facies highly discontinuous, Don and his colleagues set out a clear analysis of faunal and stratigraphic relationships from western Europe to Turkey. Another major synthetic work, this with his mentor Don Savage, was the 1983 "Mammalian Paleofaunas of the World."
Don's Asian field work began with a project in Pakistan with P.D. Gingerich. This led to an expansion into eastern Asia, with projects in cooperation with D. Dashzeveg and others on Paleogene mammals of Asia. Again, Don recognized the great need at that crucial time in the development of Asian paleontological investigations to bring together information from a great diversity of sources. This project, undertaken cooperatively with R.-j. Zhai of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, culminated in the publication in 1987 of "The Paleogene of Asia: Mammals and Stratigraphy," the landmark study on the Paleogene of the Asian landmass.
Don's undergraduate study at Oregon State University was followed by a stint in the U.S. Navy during the Korean conflict. After earning his Master's degree in paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley, Don moved to France, where he undertook research projects in the Institut de Paleontologie, and received the Doctorat d'Etat en Paleontologie in 1964. He became a citizen of France in 1974. His professional career was spent at the Institut de Paleontologie in Paris, as a research paleontolgist with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique until his retirement in 1992. The award of the Medaille d'Argent of the CNRS in 1969 recognized his many accomplishments.
Don shares his life with his fellow paleontologist/wife, Denise Sigoneau-Russell, with whom he has done field projects and continues to assist in research. He also continues the program of molding and casting fossils that he initiated while at the CNRS and that has enabled fossils to be studied on the basis of excellent copies far from their repository.
On top of his remarkable scholarly contributions to paleontology, Don Russell is an inspiring teacher, highly effective field paleontologist, true gentleman, and a truly deserving recipient of the highest award of the SVP.
Photo courtesy of Donald E. Russell.