In Memoriam: Nelson Hairston
Tuesday, August 05, 2008: Lawrence, Kansas - CNAH
The Center for North American Herpetology
5 August 2008
IN MEMORIAM NELSON HAIRSTON, SR. (1917-2008)
Noted Salamander Biologist
Nelson Hairston of Carolina Meadows, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, died at age 90 in his sleep on 31 July 2008. He was an internationally renowned ecologist, known for his research on the structure of the communities of organisms in nature and as an early contributor to the field of ecological parasitology. Hairston was born on 16 October
1917 and grew up on his family's Cooleemee Plantation near Mocksville, North Carolina. His early schooling was at Virginia Episcopal School and he obtained BS and MS degrees in Zoology from the University of North Carolina. His PhD studies at Northwestern University, under the advice of Orlando Park, were interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served in the South Pacific working on malaria transmission and treatment. He returned to graduate study at the end of the war and completed his dissertation in 1949 studying the distribution of salamander species in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains.
Hairston married Martha Turner Patton of Swananoa, North Carolina, on 19 August 1942, and after completing his PhD the two of them moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he accepted a faculty position in Zoology at the University of Michigan. He served on the faculty at UM for 27 years, helping to establish there one of the premier programs in the nation in ecology. During this period, he also served for a decade as Director of the Museum of Zoology, and for extended periods as a consultant for the United Nations World Health Organization as an expert on schistosomiasis in the Philippines, Switzerland, Iraq, Kenya, Egypt, Western Samoa and Rhodesia.
In 1974, Hairston accepted a Kenan professorship in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina where he served for twelve years teaching a very popular course in Vertebrate Zoology. Near the end of his career, he was given the Eminent Ecologist Award of the Ecological Society of America and was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He retired in 1986 and soon thereafter wrote three books, one of which, "Ecological Experiments," was translated into several languages.
Nelson Hairston is survived by his wife, Martha of Carolina Meadows, Chapel Hill; daughter, Margaret Hairston Searcy of Miami, Florida; son, Nelson G. Hairston, Jr., of Trumansburg, New York; and five grandchildren. His daughter, Martha Hairston Weston, died five years ago. Friends interested in making a donation in his memory are asked
to contribute to the Graduate Student Fund of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of the University of Michigan, or to the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina, two departments to which he dedicated his career and remained deeply loyal.
The CNAH Board of Directors expresses its sympathy to the family, friends, and colleagues of Nelson Hairston.