2005 Honorary Membership Award Recipients
|Photo courtesy of Everett Lindsay.
I am very honored to receive this recognition from the SVP. When I read the list of Honorary Members I am delighted to see names of many of my role models, mentors, and friends: it is a prestigious group, and I cherish the opportunity to join this distinguished group. I only hope this doesn't mean that I have to act dignified now.
My first SVP meeting was 39 years ago, at UC Berkeley, where I was an eager and inexperienced graduate student. That was before PowerPoint so the graduate students got to run slide projectors and mess up the sequence of slides for distinguished speakers. I regret that graduate students no longer have this opportunity, but hope that they will find some other means to disrupt our hallowed proceedings. Let me take this opportunity to formally apologize to all of the speakers (and students) that I may have abused over the years, and I hope that humility and candor will always be hallmarks of SVP meetings.
I started my academic career as an athlete and am eternally grateful to a former football coach, who was also my freshman biology professor, when he pointed out to me that I had more talent in the classroom than on the football field. I changed my major to biology, and after graduation thought that I wanted to become a mammalogist. Again, I am grateful to my mammalogy professor, Herb Wright, who explained to me that the questions I was asking (How are cats related to dogs? How are deer related to cows?) were more appropriate for vertebrate paleontology than mammalogy. Several years later I was teaching science at Yuba City Union High School in northern California when Sputnik was launched, igniting the drive to upgrade (and broaden support for) our educational system. I joined the band wagon and with financial help from the NSF obtained an excellent background in geology (and Masters degree) at Cornell University before applying for admission to graduate school at UC Berkeley at the ripe old age of 32. I was fortunate to have excellent instructors and mentors at UC Berkeley, who were doing first-class research.
My research has had two main themes, small mammals and Cenozoic chronology. I attribute my interest in small mammals to John White, who in 1963 co-taught (with Dave Webb) Stirton's mammalian taxonomy class at Berkeley. John pointed out early on that you could collect a small mammal skeleton in little more than an hour and carry the specimen to the lab in your pocket whereas it might take several years to collect a dinosaur skeleton. I attribute my interest in Cenozoic chronology to Don Savage. The classic Evernden et al. paper (with Savage the second author) was published during my first year at Berkeley and I felt very privileged to work in the shadow of that esteemed friend and mentor. One aspect of that Evernden et al. paper was the report of reversed magnetic polarity in basalts from Hawaii. I found that very difficult to believe until I met Noye Johnson and Neil Opdyke in 1970 who made a believer of me and culminated in a long and productive collaboration and friendship. This collaboration took us to Pakistan where we joined forces with David Pilbeam and his students for many more years of productive collaboration.
In 1967 I took the role teaching vertebrate paleontology at the University of Arizona, following John Lance who had been a close associate and friend of Don Savage. When I came to Arizona I was blessed with the friendship and support of three esteemed colleagues who, over the years, became mentors to my students. These now-deceased colleagues (George Simpson, John White, and Charles Repenning) contributed significantly to the progress of all my students; I didn't always agree with their counsel, but I appreciated it, and we all gained from it. Eight students completed their doctorate and 14 students completed their masters thesis in vertebrate paleontology at the University of Arizona under my guidance and direction. Most of these students have continued in vertebrate paleontology and I am very proud of their progress and achievements. We formed a loosely organized social club when they were students, calling ourselves the Red Fire Balls, and we still get together to rub antennae and tell lies. We shared many exciting and memorable experiences, too many to mention. I retired from the University of Arizona in 1996.
Over the last four decades I have enjoyed seeing many new concepts and advances in our discipline. I hope that the next four decades will by marked by many more changes and advances; moreover, I sincerely hope that being a participant in those developments will be as much fun as it has been for the last four decades.