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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2015 Awardees 2015 (Honorary Membership Award) - Margery Coombs


I grew up on a New Hampshire dairy farm.  Herding cows, watching mothers and calves, and training young animals were my first exposures to ungulate mammals.

After majoring in Biology at Oberlin College (1967) I received my Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Columbia University in 1973, completing my thesis research at the American Museum of Natural History.  Advised by Malcolm McKenna, I was also much influenced during my graduate years by Dick Tedford, Bobb Schaeffer, Morris and Marie Skinner, and Ted and Marian Galusha.  I was also lucky enough to be part of a great graduate student cohort, including Bob Hunt, Bob Emry, Pat and Tom Rich, and my husband, Walter Coombs.

My first SVP meeting was in New York City in 1969.  I was one of only two women presenting a talk that year.  We were both placed at the beginning of the program, and by some quirk of fortune I was first.  Thus I gave my first SVP talk without ever seeing a previous presentation.  My first words at SVP were “I hope you can see me over the top of the podium.”

Although my publications have included other ungulates, such as Eocene artiodactyls, the bulk of my research program has concentrated on the chalicotheres, an unusual clawed perissodactyl group.  The chalicothere focus has taken me in a variety of directions beyond skeletal anatomy, including paleogeography, taphonomy, paleoecology, biostratigraphy, phalangeal fusion, dental microwear, and comparative morphology of large mammalian clawed herbivores living and extinct.  It has taken me to Europe, China, and Africa and into some informative collaborations with scientists around the world.

I spent 39 years (1973-2012) on the biology faculty of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  During that time I taught Evolution, Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, and graduate and undergraduate versions of vertebrate paleontology.  Eighteen graduate students (8 Master’s, 10 Ph.D.) have completed degrees under my direction; most of them have made productive careers in various combinations of teaching, museum research, and fieldwork.  I’ve also worked with an additional large cadre of undergraduates who have gone on to work in such disparate areas as taphonomy, ichnology, paleobotany, dinosaurology, and even a few in mammalian paleontology.  I received the UMass College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Outstanding Teacher Award in 2004.

My work at UMass also involved a close association with the vertebrate fossil collection at Amherst College.  In addition to using the collections and exhibits for teaching, I have had a continuing role in collection management and curation.  My involvement at Amherst College culminated in the development of vertebrate paleontology exhibits in the new Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College, which opened in 2006.

I’ve rarely missed an SVP meeting over the last 46 years, and I’ve watched the society grow larger, more international, and more diverse.  I’ve also enjoyed serving the society in a variety of ways: five years as an at-large member of the Executive Committee, three years as an associate editor of JVP, six years on the Honorary Membership Committee, four years on the Ethics Committee, and seven years on the Romer Prize Committee.  I was the first organizing Chair of the Student Poster Prize (now the Colbert Prize) Committee and served on that committee for five years.

I am currently Emeritus Professor of Biology at UMass.  Without my previous teaching and committee responsibilities I’ve been able to travel, expand my research efforts, and finish some projects long on the back burner.  I hope to be with you for many more years.