Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Paul Martin, emeritus UA professor

We just learned of the death of University of Arizona emeritus Professor Paul Martin on Monday, September 13, following some lengthy health issues.

UA Geosciences Dept. Chair Karl Flessa sent out this brief announcement:
Paul Martin joined the Geochronology Laboratory of the University of Arizona in 1957 and was Professor of Geosciences from 1968 until his formal retirement in 1989. Paul is best known worldwide for his studies of Pleistocene extinctions and for his and his students’ work on the ecological and climatic record of packrat middens. Paul’s long reign on Tumamoc Hill created a community of scholars, students and just plain folks who wanted to know about how humans interacted with the rest of nature in the past so that they could build a better future for both.

Paul Martin was a generous, brilliant and extraordinarily influential scientist, teacher and mentor. More than forty years ago, he framed a scientific question: What was the role of humans in Pleistocene extinctions? It’s the greatest "whodunit" in science. The data convinced Paul - and many others - that human activity played a major role. Others disagreed, and the issue has engaged generations of scientists, students and the general public ever since. Paul warmly welcomed both supporters and dissenters. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It wasn’t just a matter of disarming his opponents with kindness. Paul really wanted to see things the way they saw them, to understand even more about his “favorite topic” – Pleistocene extinctions.

Paul's work bridged ecology, anthropology and paleontology is a way that had never been done before. He added deep time to ecological thinking, put prehistoric humans alongside now-extinct animals, and gave paleontology an environmental relevance it hadn't previously had. Paul was always a good friend and will always be my favorite paleontologist.

The Department of Geosciences has established the Paul S. Martin Quaternary Studies Fund to support field work in Quaternary geology, anthropology and paleontology. Donations may be sent to Paul S. Martin Fund, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721. Checks should be made payable to "Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona".

1 comment:

  1. I remember visiting Murray Springs in his company (and with others). As I reached to help him down into the gully (because of his polio), we had an exchange in which he spoke of the distress others felt for his "diability" being greater than the distress he felt himself. Then he spoke of all his achievements being by standing on the shoulders of others. The combination of the two remarks made me comment something like "and you are so nice about everything". He replied "you have so many more shoulders to stand on if you are nice to people". Of course his modesty was misplaced, but his response struck me as typical of the man, and a wonderful philosophy to live by. I count myself lucky to have known him