Erinn Barcomb-Peterson
KU News Service

University community remembers paleobotany leader Thomas N. Taylor

Thu, 05/05/2016

LAWRENCE —  The University of Kansas community is mourning the death of professor and curator Thomas N. Taylor. He died April 28 at his home in Lawrence. He was 78.

“Professor Taylor’s important work in his field stands as a point of pride for our university, and we are saddened to learn of his passing,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “On behalf of the entire university community, I offer the deepest condolences to his colleagues, friends and family. He will be missed.”

Taylor was the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. He also was a curator of paleobotany for the Biodiversity Institute and the university’s Natural History Museum.

Taylor’s research focused on Antarctic paleobiology, fossil fungi, fossil plants, and the origin and evolution of land plants and the colonization of the land.

During his more than 20 years at KU, Taylor made remarkable contributions to the university and shared many creative ideas and valued insights with his ecology & evolutionary biology colleagues, said Chris Haufler, the department’s chair.

“He brought us together as a united department, and we owe him a great debt for his vision, his commitment to excellence and his amazing energy,” Haufler said. “He leaves a huge legacy through his research and his leadership at local, national and international levels. Our sincere and heartfelt condolences go out to Edie and other members of Tom’s family.”

Tom Taylor, along with colleague and spouse, Edith Taylor, brought world-class paleobotany to KU and the Biodiversity Institute, said Leonard Krishtalka, the institute’s director.  

“Instantly, it established us as the global center for research and collections on the evolution of plants and fungi in Antarctica 350 million years ago, when Antarctica was a warm, forested, continent,” Krishtalka said. 

Taylor’s studies, based on numerous expeditions he led to Antarctica, have revolutionized knowledge of how and when plants first spread onto land and across vast continents, Krishtalka said.

“To quote Isaac Newton, all current and future students of paleobotany and the evolution of plants on Earth will stand on the shoulders of Tom Taylor,” Krishtalka said.

Carl Lejuez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, said, “Professor Taylor’s legacy will be known at the university and among scholars worldwide for years to come. My deepest sympathies go out to his friends and loved ones.”

A memorial celebration will be at 3 p.m. June 11 at the KU Natural History Museum.

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