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Honoring Thomas Lovejoy

Dear College of Science community:

It is with a heavy heart that I notify you of the passing of Professor Thomas Lovejoy earlier today. This very saddening news comes at the tail end of a challenging year in which he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences while battling illness.

Dr. Lovejoy, a renowned conservation biologist who was a University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy and the science director of Mason’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth, is often referred to as the “godfather of biodiversity” and first coined the phrase biological diversity in 1980. He is the Founder and President of the non-profit Amazon Biodiversity Center and the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project in the central Amazon (with INPA, Brazil’s National Institute of Amazon Research). He also served as Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation. Lovejoy had served on science and environmental councils under the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations and as Science Envoy under Obama and Biden.

In the 1980s, he brought international attention to the world’s tropical rainforests and had worked in the Brazilian Amazon since 1965. He was co-editor of three books on climate change and biodiversity He founded Nature, the long-term series on public television. In 2001, Lovejoy was awarded the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. In 2009 he was the winner of BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Ecology and Conservation Biology. He was Explorer at Large at the National Geographic. In 2012 he was recognized by the Blue Planet Prize. He held B.S. and PhD (biology) degrees from Yale University.

As an environmental scientist coming of age intellectually in the mid-1980s, I knew of Tom Lovejoy long before coming to Mason. His work was very influential on my interest on the hydrology of tropical ecosystems, modeling of hydrology in the Amazon basin, and general connection between water, climate and vegetation as key to sustainability of human-natural systems. 

I remember meeting him in person at a conference a few years ago, and what impressed me the most was his modesty; such a humble individual who was a giant of science and has impacted the work of so many others. I had lined up an invited joint talk with him at the Inter-American Development Bank about development challenges in Amazonia; so sad this won’t happen.

Rest in peace Dr. Lovejoy. Your legacy will long live on.


Fernando Miralles Wilhelm,
College of Science Dean