Thomas E. Lovejoy, III (1941-2021)

On December 25 the world lost one of the great champions of conservation and a long-time friend and associate of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Tom Lovejoy.

Credited with coining the term “biodiversity,” being one of the earliest to sound the alarm about the global extinction crisis and developing the concept of “debt-for-nature” swap programs, Mr. Lovejoy was a member of the Academy’s Ornithology Department in the early 1970s, working on tropical habitat issues when Frank Gill was chairman of the department. After leaving the Academy, he went to work with the World Wildlife Fund, of which he became Executive Vice President, and then to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, working closely with the Smithsonian’s Secretary, S. Dillon Ripley, who also had strong ties to the Academy.  Later Mr. Lovejoy became President of the Heinz Center, supporting wildlife and habitat conservation around the world. Working with INPA (Brazil’s National Amazonian Research Institute), Mr. Lovejoy conceived and launched the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems project in South America in 1979. This vastly improved biologists’ understanding of the impacts of habitat fragmentation and helped spark global concern about deforestation in the Amazon.

Tom Lovejoy smiling circa 1972 holding bird
Tom Lovejoy circa 1972, photo by Jerry Freilich

He was a senior advisor to the popular public television series Nature, which helped to raise environmental awareness for millions of people world-wide. In 2001 he was awarded the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.

Always sensitive to the importance of integrating scientific principles with governmental policy, Mr. Lovejoy served on science and environmental councils in the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. He also served as Senior Advisor to the President of the United Nations Foundation. For many years he was the World Bank’s Chief Biodiversity Advisor and Lead Specialist for Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Despite his many commitments in Washington, Mr. Lovejoy remained actively involved with the Academy throughout his career. He was a highly respected member of the Academy’s Board of Trustees from 1987 to 2008, loyally coming up from Washington to attend every meeting. He also used to make regular trips to Philadelphia to visit the Academy’s senior limnologist, Ruth Patrick, to whom he was devoted.

In recognition of his many contributions to scientific research and wildlife conservation, the Academy presented him with its Richard Hopper Day Medal in 2000.

Mr. Lovejoy bravely battled pancreatic cancer for about a year. He died at home in Washington on Christmas Day, surrounded by his family, to whom the Academy extends its deepest sympathy. He will be sorely missed.

Read more about Tom Lovejoy.

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