Department of Zoology
Richard Eliot Blackwelder, born in Madison, Wisconsin, on 29 January 1909, was a man of many talents and interests. He earned his Ph.D. degree in 1934 at Stanford University at the age of 25. The following year he married Ruth MacCoy. Their life together had its ontogeny in Washington, D.C., where Dick was a W. R. Bacon Fellow (1935-1938) at the Smithsonian Institution. From 1939 to 1955, he was Assistant Curator of Entomology at the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History). He subsequently served as Associate Professor at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, from 1956 to 1958. Thereafter, he enhanced the academic program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale as Professor of Zoology for 18 years, sharing his extensive knowledge of entomology, taxonomy, and systematics. Dick and Ruth were willing mentors to younger faculty and their families -- often hosting them in their home.
Professor Blackwelder authored a variety of books (such as, on taxonomy, animal diversity, and entomology) plus many monographs and scientific articles. He had a passion for organizing and categorizing -- this included his grand basement workshop, biographical information on colleagues, all kinds of zoological information, and Tolkien research material. Long before personal computers became common, he utilized a memory typewriter to aid him in his work (one of the first scholars to utilize such a high-tech device and he had two).
In 1947, Waldo Schmitt (a colleague of Blackwelder at the National Museum) and George Wharton (of the University of Maryland) led the establishment of the Society of Systematic Zoology (SSZ), open to all zoologists with an interest in "taxonomy" (as an aside, SSZ came about because the newly-formed Society for the Study of Evolution specifically excluded this interest area). The first annual meeting of SSZ was held in Washington, D.C., in 1948; Schmitt was elected President. In these formative years, Blackwelder was also actively involved, as an officer for 15 years and President in 1961. He was the -epoxy that held everything together" (see Savage 2001) -- the first editor of the Newsletter and first editor and designer of the cover of Systematic Zoology. He was Secretary-Treasurer (1948-1959), prepared The Directory of Zoological Taxonomists of the World, and prepared nine editions of Books on Zoology (1952-1976) for SSZ. On behalf of SSZ, he founded, obtained the books, and manned the -Book Lounge" which he personally transported and set-up at the annual multi-society meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); so all zoologists could review the latest in published books covering every aspects of zoology. This large book collection he generously donated to the SIUC Department of Zoology when he retired. Dick was well-known and appreciated by the scientific community; he received many awards and honors, including being named a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and a Timothy Hopkins Lecturer.
After retiring from SIUC in 1977, Dick and Ruth moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where they spent the rest of their lives. He donated much time to local humane societies, where he would gentle and befriend the animals, especially cats. In 1979, Dick honored the life of his good friend Waldo LaSalle Schmitt (1887-1977) with an entertaining and well-written biography titled -The Zest for Life -- or Waldo Had a Pretty Good Run." Dick also compiled A Tolkien Thesaurus. Known as the -Master of Middle-Earth" within The Tolkien Society, Dick amassed a large collection of Tolkieniana in his retirement, which he sorted and indexed before donating his entire J.R.R. Tolkien collection to the Archives of Marquette University in 1987, nearly doubling their collection. And he established the Tolkien Archives Fund at Marquette (funded by his estate) to prepare catalogs about Marquette's world-renowned manuscript collection, sponsor public programming, and to provide support for the acquisition and preservation of Tolkien research material in the Department of Special Collections. Richard E. Blackwelder died in 2001 in Cape Girardeau, twelve days before his 92nd birthday. Ruth had passed away several years earlier. The ashes of both are in the MacCoy niche at Sunset Mausoleum near Berkeley, California.
Last updated: 1-June-2017 / ghw