IUCN-US Board of Directors Statement on the Passing of Board Chair, Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy

Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy served on the IUCN-US Board of Directors from 2010 – 2021, becoming President of the Board in 2017.

As members of the IUCN-US Board of Directors, we are saddened to share the passing of our Chairman, Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy, on December 25, 2021.  As deeply as we are saddened by his passing, however, we want to take this moment to celebrate his vast contributions as a conservation leader, mentor, and friend.

As Board members, each of us has known and worked with Tom Lovejoy in many ways.  To say that Tom packed a lot of passion and accomplishments into his life is an understatement. Credited with popularizing the phrase biological diversity, he was the lead researcher of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, founder of the Amazon Biodiversity Center and his beloved rustic Camp 41, which served to support young Brazilian biologists and to lure famous and influential supporters to Amazonian conservation.  His contributions spanned decades and has helped to guide the work of so many other organizations, including the IUCN.  His ability to engage the public in understanding conservation of biological diversity was evident in his development of the PBS TV series, Nature.

What follows is a selection of thoughts about Dr. Lovejoy’s life and reactions to his passing by a few of the members of the Board of Directors of IUCN-US. 

Board Member and former President of National Geographic and current Executive Director, Earth HQ, Tim Kelly, fondly remembers, “For me, were the simple but elegant dinners Tom often hosted, a sort of biological/conservation/political salon, in his 17th century Virginia farmhouse just outside of DC. He always assembled an eclectic and interesting group to debate, discuss, laugh and mourn the colossal folly of humanity’s destruction of nature…Tom dealt with the tough issues around biological collapse forthrightly, but he maintained a lovely sense of humor, a sunny attitude, an erudite charm, and an unwavering work ethic dedicated to protecting and restoring Earth’s biodiversity. His global leadership and passionate dedication to nature will be missed, as will his friendship, kindness and wit.

Nancy Colleton, President, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, also recalls meeting Lovejoy at a dinner with friends.  “I remember him talking about inviting Sting to visit his camp in Brazil.  Of course, I was a bit star-struck, but not for Sting.  Tom was like the Clark Kent of conservation, a superhero behind a quiet demeanor.   I will dearly miss our dedicated and kind Chairman.”

In a statement earlier today, Christopher P. Dunn, PhD, Executive Director, Cornell Botanic Gardens and Chair, National Committee for the USA, noted,

“It is such sad news for our global environmental community that both Tom and Ed [Edward O.Wilson] passed away in the past two days…They were not only amazing scientists and writers, but such wonderful warm people.  My wife and I hosted him at our home in Ithaca and his easy way with students, faculty, and non-scientist significant others was amazing.  He exuded humanity.  But my deepest gratitude is for all the insights and behind the scenes work Tom gladly did to make sure my Hawaiʻi colleagues and I were successful in winning the bid to host the IUCN 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaiʻi.”

Dr. Tracy A. Farrell, CEO, IUCN-US and Director, North American Region, stated that

“Tom was a visionary. He dedicated his life to help guide all of us towards making the planet a healthier and better place, able to sustain life. On behalf of IUCN, and IUCN in North America, I want to thank him for working so closely and tirelessly with us towards these aims, and to specifically recognize and thank him for his leadership of the Board of Directors of IUCN-US.”

Former IUCN-US CEO, Frank Hawkins, also stated that

“Over the last few years, he inspired a fundamental change in the profile of IUCN-US, extending our reach to engage with conservation leaders and heads of international financial institutions to identify ways to orient post-COVID recovery finance to nature.”

Justin Kenney of Conservation International, adds

“Tom was a giant in the conservation world—thoughtful yet humble, quiet yet authoritative. We will miss his voice and passion for a better world that is filled with wildlife.”

John Tobin-de la Puente, Professor of Practice of Corporate Sustainability at Cornell University, perhaps best captures the thought of the Board, stating,

“It’s a loss for IUCN, but a much greater loss for the living world.”