Publication Date: Wednesday Aug 18, 1999
John Hunter Thomas, retired Stanford botanistJohn Hunter Thomas, a retired Stanford botanist and curator for the California Academy of Sciences, died July 20 in a Menlo Park nursing home of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 71.
Thomas was renowned for his teaching as well as his research. In a statement issued by Stanford, Philippe Cohen, administrative director of Jasper Ridge, described Thomas' "enthusiasm and knack for drawing students' attention to important features in plants."
"He did a lot of teaching in terms of bringing his classes out and in terms of training some of our early docents," Cohen said.
Thomas was also a student adviser and an amateur book printer. His research focused on floristic botany, the study of regional plants' origins in the context of evolutionary pressures. His dissertation, "Flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California," was published by the Stanford University Press in 1961.
Born in Germany to American parents, he graduated from Connecticut's Kent School in 1945. He earned his bachelor's degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1949 and his master's and doctoral degrees from Stanford in 1949 and 1959. During the Korean War, he served in the U.S. Navy.
As a graduate student at Stanford, Thomas worked as assistant curator for the Dudley Herbarium and began a long teaching career as a lecturer in the division of systematic biology. He became an associate professor in 1969. He was promoted to director at the Dudley Herbarium and accepted a joint curatorial appointment at the California Academy of Sciences after the collections were moved to that site. He remained on Stanford's faculty and the herbarium's staff until retiring in 1995.
Thomas was a member and former president of the California Botanical Society and editor of Madrono, the society's journal. He was a delegate to the nomenclature sessions of the International Botanical Congresses from 1964 to 1987 and was also active in the Academic Council's Committee on Libraries and the Associates of the Stanford University Libraries, as well as the editorial board of the Stanford University Press.
Thomas is survived by his wife, Susan Thomas of Stanford; a sister, Mary Louis Thomas of Seattle; and two nieces. A memorial service will be held Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. at Stanford Memorial Church. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to a favorite charity or to the John H. Thomas Memorial Fund, c/o Stanford University department of biological sciences, which will support a public memorial lecture series.