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Bill Clemens awarded the Romer-Simpson Medal for his contributions to vertebrate paleontology

 
In October 2006, at the 66th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Ottawa, Bill Clemens was awarded the Alfred S. Romer - George G. Simpson Medal.  The medal is "for sustained and outstanding scholarly excellence and service to the discipline of vertebrate paleontology" and is the society's highest honor.

A number of Bill's colleagues and former students praised his accomplishments...

On scientific work

Bill with Dave Archibald
Dave Archibald (left) congratulates his former teacher, Bill Clemens, on Bill's being awarded SVP's highest honor, the Romer-Simpson Medal. The inset shows the two back when Dave joined Bill in Montana in 1979 while Dave was finishing up his postdoc at Yale. Click the photo to see an enlargement — for an uncropped version of the inset photo, go here.
 
Jay Lillegraven:
"To me, however, the single most important thing I can say on his behalf is that, as a scientist, he probably is the most thoroughly cautious, scholarly, and maddeningly deliberate researcher I know. Those qualities have rubbed off on his best students, and even onto some of his lesser luminaries from the early years. If Bill said something in print about a specimen, you'll probably be wasting your time checking the accuracy of his description. Any of us may differ dramatically about the interpretation derived from Bill's observations, but his thoroughness in the presentation of the evidence itself is a model that all of us should try harder to emulate."

David Archibald:
"Often every generation or so has an individual whose work provides an important reanalysis and synthesis of earlier work. Bill's early work on Cretaceous mammals has turned out to be especially important in this context. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people in the US such as Marsh, Cope, and Osborn, and Owen in the UK, were struggling to make sense of the mostly fragmentary Mesozoic mammals. In the early 20th century Simpson provided the first true synthesis of this disparate information. Clemens' work, beginning in the late 1950's, provided that next reanalysis and synthesis for Cretaceous mammals with his three-volume work on Lance mammals. In these volumes, these Late Cretaceous mammals were more fully realized as mammalian species showing populational variation. This work is an unquestioned classic that is still used and cited today."

Time scale showing periods when Bill was doing research in Europe
A whimsical "Clemens' time scale" made by Dave Polly that indicates periods of time spent by Bill in doing research overseas. It reminds us that Bill's work has contributed to the study of vertebrate paleontology in Europe too.
 

On field work

Rich Cifelli:
"The volume, quality, and significance of Clemens' published work alone qualify him for the Romer-Simpson medal. But his research program has resulted in an equally important contribution to our discipline: Bill has fundamentally improved our basic source of data, the fossil record itself. His dissertation work on the Lance fauna in the 1950s resulted in the collection of more than three times the total known Mesozoic mammal record for the whole world up to that point (yes, I actually counted all of the specimens, though I do not have the figures in front of me right now) — and this is not to mention an equally significant collection of lower vertebrates (Estes 1964). He initiated work (Clemens 1965) in what is now known as the upper part of the Scollard Formation, Alberta, where Jason Lillegraven later recovered another spectacularly well-represented mammalian fauna (Lillegraven 1969). Clemens and his students have labored for decades in the Hell Creek Formation of Montana, resulting in a prodigious collection of the vertebrates from that unit, as well as the overlying Tullock Formation (Archibald 1982; Lofgren 1995). Through the years, Clemens and his field parties have assembled impressively large, important collections of vertebrate fossils from a number of other places and units, including but not limited to, the Fruitland-Kirtland of the San Juan Basin, New Mexico (Clemens 1973b) and the Judith River Formation of Montana (Montellano 1992). The collections assembled by Clemens and his students easily rank among the most important ever made. This legacy that Bill has given us will continue to serve the paleontological community indefinitely, and the more his collections are studied and used through the years, the more important they become. This truly is an everlasting, critically important contribution to the discipline of vertebrate paleontology. It is also worth pointing out that Bill has now been continuously involved in field work for about 50 years. Neither Romer, nor Simpson, nor hardly anyone else who comes to mind has had such an enduring commitment to improving the fossil record."

On graduate education

Bill with Nick Fraser, Dave Polly, and Xhe-Xi Luo
Nick Fraser (second from left) and two more of Bill's former students, Dave Polly and Zhe-Xi Luo, join Bill in celebrating his award. Click photo for an enlargement.
 
Zhe-Xi Luo:
"Although many of Bill's students have moved onto active careers of their own, the most outstanding among Bill's academic descendants are a group of dynamic women scientists. A great legacy from the career of Bill Clemens is his success in training and mentoring a succession of women paleontologists (Sue Hirschfeld, Annalisa Berta, Nancy Simmons, Marisol Montellano, Jessica Theodor, and Anne Weil, among others), many of whom are very active and successful in vertebrate paleontology, setting great role models for more women to aspire for scientific and educational careers in paleontology. Bill also mentored several students of under-represented minority groups and several international students."

Nancy Simmons:
"It is amazing that a large proportion of the best mammalian paleontologists in the world began their careers under Bill's nurturing. One part of this that deserves special mention is the role that Bill played in helping to integrate women into the field. When I began graduate school in the early 1980s, there were not many women in professional positions in the paleontology world. Bill quietly and professionally set about changing this by encouraging young women like myself to believe that we could and would succeed in the field if we gave it our best. In my own case, I owe my career to Bill. I suspect that the same is true of many other active vertebrate paleontologists. And we, in turn, are training the next generation. It is a considerable legacy, for which Bill truly deserves recognition."

Jessica Theodor:
"Over the course of his career at Kansas and Berkeley, Bill mentored thirty-five students, who include several of the pre-eminent mammalian paleontologists in the field. A truly remarkable aspect of his career, however, is the high number of women he has brought into the paleontological community. Thirty-two percent of his students have been women — an astonishingly high percentage, considering the state of academic culture during the early portion of his career. It is especially gratifying to know that he did this not out of a desire for attention or out of reasons of political correctness, as Bill never once called attention to his support of women in the field, instead simply going about his business and doing the right thing, quietly and directly. Bill also influenced the broader community of evolutionary biologists at Berkeley. He was an important resource to graduate students from other labs, and he was especially concerned that the students in mammalogy received a strong grounding in the entire evolutionary history of mammals. Bill also ushered a number of undergraduate students into their first research experience, and several of these students have gone on to graduate research in vertebrate paleontology."

Bill Clemens' legacy
Don Lofgren:
"I suspect that Bill Clemens has supervised the work of more VP graduate students in his career than most, if not all, other professors in the United States. If one worked out a phylogeny of currently active vertebrate paleontologists, as to where they attended graduate school and who supervised their work, the tree leading to Bill would resemble a mighty tall redwood planted firmly on the campus of UC Berkeley. Bill also worked to insure that his students had adequate financial support and included many on his numerous research grants. Bill was an outstanding teacher, setting a fine example for students. His fossil mammals class was well-renowned and all VP students, as well as those from Anthropology would enroll, because everyone knew that Bill would bring them up-to-date on current knowledge concerning the systematics and evolution of mammals. Although extremely busy, Bill was very approachable and would often leave his office door open which was an invitation for students to stop and talk about their work or ask questions about whatever was on their mind. Bill would also host social gatherings and would usually invite his graduate students. Bill was a beacon of warmth, caring, and personal connection for his students."

On service

Greg Wilson:
"Bill has always stressed to his students that an integral part of being a professional paleontologist is contributing to the well-being of its professional society and the community at large. In looking at the various SVP committees, it seems clear that the message got through. Bill's students have always been contributing members of SVP. Again, Bill subtly passed this on to his students by example. While I was a student, he served a variety of administrative roles as, for example, a board member for the California Academy of Sciences and the interim Director of the UCMP. Through periodic discussions with him about his administrative duties and the oftentimes complex inner workings of committees, academic institutions, and museums ongoings, I gradually began to understand the administrative structure of these positions and the importance of serving in them. He would also encourage me to take on whatever administrative roles that I could as a graduate student. At the time, I'm not sure that I saw this as much more than a distraction to my dissertation progress, but now as a curator in a museum and as a participant in one of the society's committees, I understand how important those lessons were."

On international collaboration

Angela Milner:
"I am not a mammal researcher and I do not have detailed knowledge of [Bill's] career achievements at Berkeley so I offer a slightly different perspective of Bill as a regular and distinguished research visitor to the Natural History Museum in London. Bill has paid several long research visits to the Natural History Museum in the past three or four years to work on Mesozoic mammal material. We always look forward to his visits for several reasons. Firstly, he has got to grips with some highly important, long-neglected material and is putting it at the forefront of publication. Bill is always a fund of knowledge — about almost any aspect of vertebrate palaeontology (and a lot more besides), let alone mammals — and wisdom; he is only too ready to help anyone with kindly advice and has willingly taken precious time out of his visits here in London to help colleagues. He is a great ambassador for vertebrate palaeontology — a cultured, considerate colleague and a thorough gentleman."

A thank you from Bill

In response to all this, Bill had this to say...

"What I have been able to accomplish in paleontological research and teaching has not been a solo performance. I have benefited greatly from my associations with the Museum of Paleontology and the former Department of Paleontology, now part of the Department of Integrative Biology. While a student at Berkeley, I profited from working with my major professor Don Savage, R.A. Stirton, Charles Camp, Sam Welles, and other members of the faculty who were great teachers. Also, by chance, I happen to join a remarkable group of graduate student colleagues: Richard Estes, Les Marcus, Malcolm McKenna, Dick Tedford, David Webb, Jack Wolfe, and Jane Gray, just to mention a few.

"My experience in graduate school highlighted the values of a curriculum covering the diverse fields of paleontology and integrating relevant areas of the Earth and biological sciences, a strong program in graduate education, and the support of field and laboratory research provided by a paleontological museum. Throughout my career as a member of the faculty and a museum curator, first at the University of Kansas and then back at Berkeley, I have worked toward development of diverse programs of research and teaching.

"Through the years I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with a large number of very talented students. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to UCMP. Its research and teaching collections, as well as research facilities, still provide remarkable support for both our field and laboratory research. Here in North America, my students and I have worked for over 30 years in eastern Montana gaining from the experience and talents of an avocational paleontologist, Harley Garbani. Bob Makela and Jack Horner introduced us to the microvertebrate faunas of the Judith River Formation. More recently we have benefited from being part of Jack’s Hell Creek Project. Also, I have had the opportunity to gain from time spent at University College London, Royal Holloway College, and the Natural History Museum in London as well as paleontological institutes in Munich and Bonn. In sum, yes, I am a great believer in collaborative research projects.

"Through the years I have been consistently supported by my wife, Dorothy, and our children. They have tolerated my absences on field projects and those long night stands when I retreated to my study to finish a lecture or put the final polish on a manuscript.

"Thank you all."

Read more about Bill's career in a tribute that appeared in UCMP News following Bill's retirement in December of 2002.

Award ceremony photos by Pat Holroyd, UCMP; 1979 photo of Bill and Dave Archibald courtesy of Mark Goodwin, UCMP; Portrait courtesy of the UC Department of Integrative Biology.