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Storrs Lovejoy Olson, 1944 - 2021 (1 Viewer)

Fred Ruhe

Well-known member
Netherlands
Storrs was born on April 3, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois, being named for his maternal grandfather, P. S. Lovejoy, a well-known Michigan conservationist. Storrs’s father, Franklyn C. W. Olson (1910-82), was a physical oceanographer, whose PhD dissertation was on the currents of Lake Erie. At an early age, Storrs was exposed to pickled fish, warbler migration, Peterson’s field guide, and an assortment of biologists at the F. T. Stone Laboratory of Ohio State University on Gibraltar Island at the western end of Lake Erie. In 1950, his father accepted a job at Florida State University and his family moved to Tallahassee, where Storrs grew up and lived until 1968. Although Storrs was originally interested in fishes and made a diverse collection of the ichthyofauna of the Florida panhandle, at age 12 his direction was changed permanently by local ornithologist Henry M. Stevenson’s invitation to participate in a Christmas bird count, in the course of which Stevenson found and collected an out-of-season prairie warbler. From that moment, the prospect of shooting birds seemed far more engaging than seining fish and a lifetime’s course was set. Another important influence during Storrs’s teens was Horace Loftin, then a graduate student at Florida State University working on a master’s thesis on the phenomenon of boreal shorebirds summering far from their breeding grounds. Storrs and Horace spent many exciting weekends together on the Gulf coast trapping and marking shorebirds. Subsequently, Loftin moved his family to the Panama Canal Zone, where he taught and worked on a PhD degree on fresh-water fishes of Panama. Storrs moved in with him in 1963 and spent his first semester after high school at Canal Zone Junior College, with many expeditions to the “interior” for his first experiences in the tropics. He finished his undergraduate work at Florida State University in 1966 and returned to Panama for the summer as part of a project working on immunology of vultures. With his primary interests in systematics and anatomy, Storrs started graduate school at the University of Florida under Pierce Brodkorb. There he gained valuable exposure to fossil birds and the literature of avian paleontology as well as a lifelong friendship with one of ornithology’s most unforgettable characters. Otherwise, Gainesville was not to his liking and he returned to Florida State University to complete his master’s degree in 1968. Because of the number of significant new records of birds that Storrs had obtained in Panama, he was contacted by former Smithsonian Secretary Alexander Wetmore who was engaged in preparing a monograph of the birds of Panama. Storrs first visited Alex Wetmore and the National Museum of Natural History in 1967, and the contacts developed then led to a summer job in 1968 under Richard Banks, in what was then the Fish and Wildlife Service, inventorying the skeleton collection in the Division of Birds. Following this he was employed from 1968 to 1969 as resident manager, under F. S. L. Williamson, director of the Smithsonian’s newly established Chesapeake Bay Center at Edgewater, Maryland. Through the connections between the Chesapeake Bay Center and Johns Hopkins University, Storrs was encouraged to apply to graduate school at Hopkins, where he matriculated at the School of Hygiene and Public Health in the Department of Pathobiology, headed by the eclectic and far-sighted Frederik Bang. With Smithsonian sponsorship, Storrs visited the remote South Atlantic islands of Ascension and St. Helena in 1970 and 1971, where he made important collections of fossil birds and many other items of natural history, which inspired subsequent expeditions by marine biologists because of all the novelties discovered on Ascension Island. Storrs completed his dissertation on the evolution of the rails of the South Atlantic islands and was awarded his ScD degree from Johns Hopkins in 1972. Meanwhile, he had moved into the National Museum of Natural History in August 1971 on a pre-doctoral fellowship, with the unstated intention of never leaving. He next held a presidential internship and then worked as part of S. Dillon Ripley’s research laboratory, completing a chapter on fossil rails for Ripley’s monograph of the Rallidae published in 1977. Storrs was hired as a curator in the Division of Birds, National Museum of Natural History, in March 1975. He met his future wife, Helen James, in 1976 and they embarked on the first of dozens of trips to explore for fossil birds in the Hawaiian Islands in 1977. Their joint exposition of the diversity of the pre-human avifauna of the archipelago has been one of the milestones of systematic ornithology in the past century. Storrs has also conducted fieldwork in the West Indies, Bermuda, South Africa, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Spain, and Argentina, as well as additional work in Panama and the South Atlantic islands. His more than 300 publications treat modern and fossil birds from all parts of the world and all time periods. Storrs was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 2001.

The Storrs Olson Prize is awarded by the Editor for the best book review published in each volume of The Wilson Journal of Ornithology (beginning with volume 120).

More on Storrs, including his body of research, here.

See: https://ornithologyexchange.org/forums/topic/44891-storrs-olson-1944-2021/

I would like to thank Steve for bringing this to my attention.

Fred
 

RSN

Rafael S. Nascimento
Brazil
A huge loss. His work and style had a major impact in my interest on fossil birds. I never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but he was always very kind and hepful responding e-mails. My condolences to the family.
 

Melanie

Well-known member
I've read this message on Twitter and I've tried to contact the Smithsonian Institution for a confirmation. Is anyone here is knowing more? (e.g. his date of death)
 

GMK

Well-known member
Storrs had been ill with cancer for some months, at least. He died within the last few days, but I can't tell you more than that.

Incidentally, placing this in the paleontology forum somewhat underplays his importance. Storrs was WAY more than just a paleontologist, which is what made him such an extraordinary ornithologist.
 

Melanie

Well-known member
Storrs had been ill with cancer for some months, at least. He died within the last few days, but I can't tell you more than that.

Incidentally, placing this in the paleontology forum somewhat underplays his importance. Storrs was WAY more than just a paleontologist, which is what made him such an extraordinary ornithologist.
Thanks for the information, Guy. I am curious who will have the opportunity to describe Olson's still undescribed bird fossils (e.g. the extinct rail from Fernando de Noronha). Olson already described an extinct rat from Fernando de Noronha in 1999.
 

Fred Ruhe

Well-known member
Netherlands
Guy wrote: "Incidentally, placing this in the paleontology forum somewhat underplays his importance. Storrs was WAY more than just a paleontologist, which is what made him such an extraordinary ornithologist."

I do not agree with you. To me he was mainly known as a paleornitholofist, and a very famous one. Much miore than half of his publications were on bird fossils, it was a major part of his work. He was a major (with L. Alan Feduccia) opponent in the debate "Birds are Dinosaurs" and some other controversial theories like the descent of Struthious birds from Ergilornithidae (Gruiformes with only teo toes). He was very important in the field of paleornithology.

For me reason enough for placing this thread in this subforum.

Fred
 
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Melanie

Well-known member
It would be interesting to know when there will be an official death notice / obituary (e.g. in Newspapers or a statement on the website of the Smithsonian Institution). A tweet on Twitter is no sufficient source to change the Wikipedia article.
 

Melanie

Well-known member
I've got a reply from the Smithsonian:

Hello Melanie,

Thanks for reaching out. We did indeed learn late last week that Dr. Olson passed away. Ornithologists in our Department of Vertebrate Zoology are currently working on a bio to be shared with museum staff, which will likely be posted on relevant social-media sites. Dr. Helen James indicated that it could be used to update Storr's Wikipedia page as well. I can send the bio to you directly once it is ready.

All the best,

Carole

Carole C. Baldwin

Curator of Fishes & Chair

Department of Vertebrate Zoology
 

RSN

Rafael S. Nascimento
Brazil
It would be interesting to know when there will be an official death notice / obituary (e.g. in Newspapers or a statement on the website of the Smithsonian Institution). A tweet on Twitter is no sufficient source to change the Wikipedia article.

A brief obituary:
 

Fred Ruhe

Well-known member
Netherlands
This morning, Jan 27th I received this e-mail from Vanesa De Pietri, secretary of SAPE (Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution:

We are saddened by the news of the death of Dr. Storrs Olson, one of the founding members of our Society. Below is the obituary penned by Helen James and released by the National Museum of Natural History, where Storrs worked for many decades.

Storrs Lovejoy Olson was born to Beatrice Lovejoy Olson and Franklyn C. W. Olson on April 3, 1944, in Chicago, Illinois. His father was a PhD student in physical oceanography at the time, studying the water currents of Lake Erie. During his early years in Evanston, Storrs was exposed to biologists pursuing diverse projects including preserving fish and studying warbler migration at the F. T. Stone Laboratory of Ohio State University, on the shore of Lake Erie. The family moved to Tallahassee, FL, in 1950, where his father joined the faculty of the Florida State University (FSU).

As a boy, Storrs had a keen interest in fishes and was building up a personal collection, when at age 12, a Christmas Bird Count with the prominent Florida ornithologist Henry Stevenson influenced him to change his focus to birds. Storrs became a teenaged assistant to FSU graduate student Horace Loftin, who was trapping and marking shorebirds on the Gulf Coast. Upon his high school graduation, Storrs moved with Horace and his family to the Panama Canal Zone and attended the Canal Zone Junior College. Storrs and Horace made many excursions together to collect and study tropical fish and birds. Storrs subsequently graduated from the Florida State University and worked on a master’s degree under the renowned avian paleontologist Pierce Brodkorb at the University of Florida.

Storrs’ Panama bird records earned him a friendship with Smithsonian ornithologist Alexander Wetmore, who was writing a monograph on the Birds of Panama. This led to temporary Smithsonian jobs followed by enrollment in a PhD program at the Johns Hopkins University (ScD 1972) with Smithsonian support. His dissertation research on fossil rails (Rallidae) of the South Atlantic islands earned him a friendship with Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, who was writing a monograph on the rails of the world. Within a few years, Storrs was hired as Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History (March 1975). He retired from the Smithsonian as a Senior Scientist in May 2009, but he maintained an office in the Bird Division and continued his research until recently.

Storrs was a prolific scientist, publishing over 400 papers on the paleontology, morphology, systematics, and faunistics of birds; on the history and literature of natural history collecting; and even on systematics of bryophytes. He maintained an enormous correspondence on these topics and forged friendships around the world. Storrs was energetic in the field and led dozens of expeditions to collect fossils and bird specimens for the museum, including to islands of Hawaii, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Japan, and the South Atlantic, and continental locales in North, South and Central America, Australia, and Europe. Although a member of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology, he served as de facto curator of the fossil bird collection in the Paleobiology Department throughout his career. His contributions to the Smithsonian collections include over 6,000 specimens of recent birds, and extensive fossil collections, mainly from his island expeditions.

Storrs’ publications cover all regions of the globe and all time periods during what he called “the Ornithozoic.” Among his notable advances were a survey of the fossil record of birds in 1985, his discoveries of Hawaiian fossil birds with his first wife Helen James, a monograph with Pamela Rasmussen on the fossil birds of the Lee Creek phosphate deposits in North Carolina, numerous contributions on the Quaternary avifaunas of Atlantic and Caribbean islands, and his work to complete Alexander Wetmore’s opus on the birds of Panama. He also wrote on Eocene birds, fossil seabirds, and ornithological collections and literature. He was a great bibliophile who wrote about the history of natural history collecting and exposed several cases of specimen fraud in ornithology.

Storrs held strong opinions and expressed them colorfully and boldly, both in person and in writing. His lively reviews of ornithological publications earned him several awards from the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. There was some trepidation in the administrative offices of the museum when a new memo arrived from Storrs, who was sure to explain in rich language what they were getting wrong lately. He is remembered for diving into the debate about the dinosaurian origins of birds with similar gusto. Storrs received many accolades during his career, including the Loye and Alden Miller Research Award from the Cooper Ornithological Society in 1994, and the Smithsonian Secretary’s Distinguished Research Lecture in 2007.

Storrs’ first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife Johanna Humphrey, his sister Susan Wallace-Olson, his children Travis and Sydney Olson, and his granddaughter Linnea Louise Olson. Cards can be sent to Johanna Humphrey, 1504 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg VA 22401.
 

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