This has been a stunning week for loss of life, with the suicide of Anthony Bourdain coming on the heels of Kate Spade’s suicide. Please dear hearts, no matter how depressed and overwhelmed, suicide is never, ever the answer. I learned several days ago that a friend passed away. I had the great fortune to travel with Tom Emmel in 2014 to the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries and we developed a lasting friendship. He shared information generously–it was his 44th trip to Angangueo–and he was one of the first scientists to study the Monarchs in their winter home. Tom leaves behind a lifetime of friendships as well as his legacy in research and conservation.
Tom loved the people and town of Angangueo; here he is in his element at the Sierra Chinqua Monarch Butterfly Reserve.
It is with great sadness that the family of Dr. Thomas C. Emmel announce his passing on Saturday, May 26, 2018, while traveling abroad in Brazil. He was 77 years old.
Tom is lovingly remembered by his brother, John Emmel (Phyllis), his nephew, Travis, and his niece, Alexis. In addition, a multitude of friends, colleagues and former students will forever honor Tom – a noted conservationist, naturalist, prolific author and visionary – for his kindness, humor, encyclopedic knowledge and wide-ranging interests. He epitomized the ideal of the professor as educator, mentor, supporter and inspiration.
Born on May 08, 1941, Tom grew up in Los Angeles, California. His parents, Edward and Ardyce Emmel, met on an outing sponsored by the Sierra Club and encouraged an interest in nature, including taking Tom and his brother on many camping trips to all the national parks in the western U.S. Around age eight, at the suggestion of his father, Tom, then younger brother John, began collecting butterflies on all their family trips. This began a lifelong passion they shared. Their mother further encouraged their interest by driving them to entomological society meetings at Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. His parents, a den mother and scout master, respectively, were very much involved with the scouting program, and the brothers were Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Explorer Scouts, and became Eagle Scouts as well.
When Tom was a high school senior, he was one of 40 winners of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, for which he won a trip to Washington, D.C. Upon graduating from high school, Tom went with ornithologist L. Irby Davis, for a three month trip to southern Mexico. Tom assisted Mr. Davis in recording bird songs in the early morning and evening, then collected butterflies during the mid-day. He returned to southern California with several thousand specimens – and his lifetime interest in tropical entomology was secured. As it would turn out, some of those specimens were representative of a new species – which in April 2018 was named Cyllopsis tomemmeli in his honor.
Tom earned his B.A. at Reed College in 1963. During the summer breaks from college, Tom was a nature counselor at Sanborn Western Camps for Kids, in Colorado. He earned his Ph.D. in Population Biology at Stanford University in 1967, and was a Post-doctoral Fellow in Genetics at the University of Texas from 1967-1968. His unbridled commitment to and support of the University of Florida began in 1968 when he joined its faculty as Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences & Zoology. In 1973, he became an Associate Professor of Zoology and three years later, in 1976, he became a Professor of Zoology. He served as department chairman for Zoology, directed the Department of Zoology Division of Lepidoptera Research from 1980-2003, and directed the UF Boender Endangered Species Laboratory since its inception in 1995.
In 2004, Tom was chosen to be the Founding Director of the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida. The McGuire Center was Tom’s vision and concept: A state-of-the-art research and teaching center that focused on Lepidoptera and the biodiversity they represent, and by extension a facility that engaged the public and created awareness of nature’s beauty and relevance to our lives. The Center was brought to fruition by the generous support of Dr. and Mrs. William McGuire, lifelong friends and admirers of Tom and his efforts. Under Dr. Emmel’s leadership, The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity has become world-renowned for research on biodiversity, habitat loss, and Lepidoptera; a major publisher of related scientific studies; a force in public education about our environment and its biodiversity; and the repository for the largest collection of Lepidoptera specimens in the world
Tom authored more than 400 scientific publications, including 35 books. His many personal research interests included the endangered Schaus Swallowtail population in the Florida Keys; the effects of mosquito control pesticides on non-target wildlife and humans living in south Florida; microevolution, population biology, and ecological genetics of Cercyonis butterflies; chromosome evolution and macroevolution in the Lepidoptera; mimicry complexes in Mechanitis and Melinaea ithomiine butterflies in the Neotropics; biology, life histories, ecology, and conservation of the California butterfly fauna; fossil butterflies; and butterfly diversity in many areas of the world. He worked tirelessly to encourage efforts to promote conservation and natural habitat preservation, such as through the Miami Blue–Save Wild Florida license plate initiative and conservation biology efforts for the overwintering Monarch butterfly sites in southern Mexico. Throughout his lifetime, Tom mentored countless students – fostering and encouraging their careers in entomology, taxonomy, the study of tropical rainforests, and conservation biology.
Dr. Tom Emmel leaves behind a tremendous and unparalleled legacy. His vision, imagination, and energy in the service of conservation and Lepidoptera will continue to inspire and inform future generations of scientists, as well as the public in general. His life work contributed to making a better world, and the impact will be enduring.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in memory of Tom can be made to the Thomas C. Emmel Founding Director’s Endowment, which supports collections and research at the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center.
Funeral services and a celebration of life for Tom are to be announced in the near future.
Arrangements are under the care of MILAM FUNERAL AND CREMATION SERVICES 311 South Main Street Gainesville, FL (352) 376-5361 www.milamfh.com