Remembering Thomas Dolan IV (1923-2021)

An accomplished scientist, a passionate watershed advocate and a very dear Academy friend and supporter, the late Thomas Dolan IV led a rich and remarkable life packing much into his 98 years.   

His love of the environment and waterways began as a child when he spent summers with his family on Chesapeake Bay and in Maine. After serving as an ambulance driver for the American Field Service in India and Myanmar during World War II, Mr. Dolan followed this passion and earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and conservation from Cornell University in 1948. Fresh from college, Mr. Dolan joined the Academy and worked with renowned ecologist Ruth Patrick, PhD, developing not only a lifelong, enduring friendship with Patrick, but his defining, deep-rooted sense of environmental justice.  

As a young aquatic entomologist, Mr. Dolan worked alongside Patrick surveying the Conestoga River in Pennsylvania, collecting specimens and samples, and developing protocols that would eventually become timeless standards for assessing waterway health. In 2013 Mr. Dolan astutely explained the importance of biodiversity for stream health: “If you had very little diversity, that would be an immediate indication that something was wrong with the stream, that it wasn’t ecologically balanced. If there’s biodiversity, you have the capability of recovering. If one species gets knocked out, you have other species to fill in the ecological niches.”

Tom Dolan IV (far right) with Ruth Patrick (leaning on door) and the 1948 Conestoga Creek survey team. This photo can be seen in the Academy’s Invisible World of Water exhibit.

Mr. Dolan’s illustrious career continued with a focus on safeguarding waterways. He applied the principles he developed with Patrick to assess waterways across the country, working on several local watershed projects — such as the Brandywine River watershed — to establish the first watershed association in the United States. Mr. Dolan then led the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association, which pioneered concepts of flood control for local watersheds in the 1960s, and later became a trustee of the Philadelphia Conservationists (now Natural Lands), which created the Tinicum Wildlife Reserve (now the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge). He was also a founder of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and president of the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. 

Throughout his career, Mr. Dolan and his family remained close friends and advocates of the Academy. His late wife, Elizabeth, chaired the Academy’s Women’s Committee and served as a trustee of the Academy from 1981 to 1995.

In 2017 Mr. Dolan, along with his cousin Sarah Price, his daughter Margo and his sons Tom and Brooke, established and endowed the Dolan Fund for Innovative Watershed Research at the Academy to address much-needed watershed issues, encourage innovative research and provide support for a post-doctoral fellow position. As our watersheds face many threats, and communities fight for clean drinking water, Mr. Dolan’s extraordinary work and insight are now more important than ever. At the time Mr. Dolan said, “When the family gathered together to talk about what we wanted to do for the Academy, we decided that water will be the enduring issue facing our country and the world.”   

For his deep knowledge, his lifelong commitment to protecting the environment, his kindness and generosity, the Academy remembers the life, the incredible groundbreaking work and the enduring scientific impact of Mr. Dolan. 

We will miss him. 

Read more about Tom Dolan.  

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