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(Fwd) Dr. Eugene Odum
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- Subject: (Fwd) Dr. Eugene Odum
- From: "Will Cook" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Tue, 13 Aug 2002 10:23:07 -0400
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Here's the obituary for Eugene Odum, the father of ecosystem ecology, who
was formerly a birder in Chapel Hill, NC. (Forwarded from Ecolog-L)
------- Forwarded message follows -------
Eugene Odum was born September 17, 1913. He grew up in Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, where his father, Howard W. Odum, was a professor of sociology.
Eugene Odum's brother, named Howard after their father, was born in 1920 and
was to become a noted ecologist as well.
Eugene Odum showed a deep interest in birds as a teenager in Chapel Hill and
with a friend named Coit Coker began a column called "Bird life in Chapel
Hill" in the local newspaper in the spring of 1931. When Odum graduated from
high school in 1929, his class presented him with a comb because his wind-
blown hair was never neat.
He received his bachelor's and master's from the University of North
Carolina and spent one formative summer as at the Allegheny School of
Natural History. His first faculty post was in the department of biology at
Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1937, he entered the
University of Illinois to work on his doctoral degree.
After graduation, he took a job as a resident naturalist for the Hyuck
Preserve in upstate New York. He also married Martha Ann Huff, to whom he
was married until her death in 1995. While at the Hyuck Preserve, Odum began
research on birds and their habitats, research that would led him to a
greater understanding of how entire ecosystems work.
The more Odum thought about ecosystems, the more he was convinced that there
should be a way to study how one part affects another. Yet this was in a day
when there were no computers. Only crude tools were available to understand
how biological and physical systems interacted. And yet, with the single-
minded determination that became the hallmark of his method, Odum set about
creating a discipline that took a revolutionary view of how ecosystems
In the fall of 1940, Odum took a full-time job as an instructor of zoology
at the University of Georgia. He was the only ecologist in a department of
five faculty members, none of whom thought much about his ideas of studying
entire ecosystems. Before he could develop his ideas further, World War II
exploded. Odum spent three years helping teach science to nurses, pharmacy-
mates and pre-medical personnel. He even found time to coach the UGA tennis
In 1951, the Atomic Energy Commission made a decision that would have a
profound affect on Odum's career and the future of ecology. The AEC had
earlier built the Savannah River Site on land in South Carolina just across
the line from Georgia. To see if the site had any effect on nearby plants
and animals, it proposed an ecological laboratory.
The AEC selected a proposal developed by Odum as a basis for what would
become the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Suddenly Odum found himself
with one of the largest, self-contained environmental laboratories on earth,
some 300 square miles or property off limits to the public.
He helped set up research projects at the site, but one thing was still
lacking for the consistent study of ecosystem ecology: a textbook. There had
been many books on the ecology of parts of the natural world for years but
there was no single book that examined the entire ecosystem, starting from
the top down.
His book, Fundamental of Ecology, was, for an astonishing 10 years, the only
textbook available worldwide on ecosystem ecology. It was translated into
many languages and was crucial in the training of an entire generation of
ecologists. Odum argued that ecology was not a subdivision of biology or
anything else. Instead, he said it should be an integrated discipline that
brings all of the sciences together instead of breaking them apart.
Odum was also deeply involved in the establishment of and staffing of the
UGA Marine Institute on Georgia's Sapelo Island, which has continued its
mission of marine research for more than 40 years. All of Odum's varied
pursuits came together when the University's Institute of Ecology was
founded in 1960, with Odum as its first director. It immediately made a name
for itself, training a generation of scientists committed to Odum's holistic
method of looking at the world around us.
In addition to Fundamentals of Ecology, Odum published more than a dozen
Numerous honors came Odum's way during his long professional life. He was
elected to the National Academy of Science and was named an honorary member
of the British Ecological Society. With his brother, Howard W. Odum, he
received the $80,000 international "Institut de la Vie" prize from the
French government. He also received the Tyler Ecology Award and a check for
$150,000, presented by then-President Jimmy Carter in ceremonies at the
In 1987, Eugene and Howard Odum won the Craaford Prize given by the Royal
Swedish Academy, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize, which is not awarded in
ecology. Eugene Odum's share of the money, $125,000 went to set up a private
foundation for the promotion of research and education in ecology.
Odum retired from the University of Georgia in 1984 but he never stopped
coming to work every day and published his last book in 1998, Ecological
Vignettes. He was also the subject of a documentary film that aired a number
of times on Georgia Public Television and which has been used in ecology
classes on campus.
Odum was preceded in death by his wife, Martha and two sons. William Eugene
Odum, also an ecologist, died after a brief illness in 1991, and Daniel
Thomas Odum died in 1987.
------- End of forwarded message -------
Charles W. "Will" Cook w 919-660-7423
Biology Dept., Duke Univ., Box 90340, Durham, NC 27708