Ted Parker and Al Gentry
The Award bears the names of the late Theodore A. Parker III and Alwyn Gentry, outstanding scientists who worked closely with Field Museum staff to explore and conserve tropical biodiversity. Their work in Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program remains a key inspiration for the Museum’s Rapid Inventory program today.
Parker, an ornithologist, and Gentry, a botanist, were killed August 3, 1993, when their plane crashed during an aerial survey of an Ecuadorian cloud forest.
Theodore A. Parker III, 1953-1993
Ted was born on 1 April 1953 and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in a family that encouraged his childhood interest in natural history. Ted soon demonstrated remarkable ability in bird identification and observation. He used these skills to achieve fame as a "birder" in North America while still in his teens, as a bird tour leader (principally for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours), and, especially following his association with Louisiana State University, as a field researcher. Ted was not the first ornithologist to travel widely in South America, but he possessed an uncanny ability to fully assimilate what he was seeing, to identify common patterns in behavior or vocalizations or community structure across the continent, and to demonstrate that indeed someone could master an avifauna whose size and complexity intimidated everyone else.
Ted generously provided advice and encouragement to all who shared his interests. Although he studied many aspects of bird biology, one of his principal interests was bird vocalizations. Far more important than the fame Ted achieved for his skills at learning the voices of tropical birds was the example he provided as a field recordist; he was instrumental in propelling the Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology into one of the world's premier archives of bird sounds.
Despite his often hectic travel schedule, Ted published extensively on his field work. At the time of his death his field ability was achieving its greatest impact through the innovative Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), which he founded and directed for Conservation International. We are only two among the many who mourn, not just the loss of a spirited and productive colleague, but also the loss of a friend. Ted was charismatic, playful, strong-willed, and above all, one of a kind. We miss not only the knowledge Ted had to share, but the companionship and joy he brought to so many.
By John M. Bates and Thomas S. Schulenberg
Reproduced in part with permission from The Auk 114(1):110, 1997.
Alwyn H. Gentry, 1945-1993
The tragic death of Alwyn Gentry in 1993 was a tremendous loss to tropical botany and to neotropical conservation. Gentry, a field botanist and senior curator at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, was famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of tropical plants, and for his unwavering, boundless energy. During his 25-year research career, Gentry published close to 200 scientific papers and collected nearly 80,000 plant specimens - he amassed larger collections of plant specimens, from more countries, than had any botanist to this day. And he applied his extensive knowledge to urgent conservation problems.
A specialist on the tropical family Bignoniaceae, Gentry was also an excellent generalist, making him an invaluable contributor to the understanding of plant distributions and of the composition of natural communities in the American tropics.
One of Gentry's major feats was the completion of his 900-page Field Guide to the Families and Genera of Woody Plants of Northwest South America. This comprehensive guide is especially important because Gentry highlights vegetative characteristics (such as leaves, bark and odor) for identification, rather than relying on fruits and flowers alone. Gentry's exhaustive reference work will continue to serve as an invaluable tool for field researchers and conservationists. And his independent spirit will continue to inspire generations of botanists and conservationists.