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Birds of a Feather
by Tom Thomson

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A good man,
Ed Thomas was

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Edward S. Thomas was my mentor.

From old photographs I've seen, he was tall and darkly handsome as a youth. During the years that he was guru and teacher to me, his appearance was one of distinction with friendly blue eyes, high forehead, and a melodious resonant voice.

He was a gifted public speaker. He never used notes, his vocabulary was boundless, his metaphors appropriate, and he could recite the scientific names of thousands of plants, birds, and animals. He made friends wherever he went and for all these reasons he was in great demand as a public speaker. Little wonder that as a teenager, I practically worshipped him. I'm sure that the number of people he influenced for the good must have numbered in the hundreds.

For over half a century, he enriched the lives of central Ohioans with his exceptional knowledge of the natural sciences. From 1931 to 1962 he was Curator of Natural Science at the old Ohio State Museum, which was located on The Ohio State University campus at the corner of 15th and High. He had given up a career in law to follow the dictates of his heart. The Board of Trustees of the Historical Society named Ed to the post of Curator of Natural History on February 1, 1931. He succeeded Prof. James S. Hine, the former curator, and gave up the practice of law to devote himself full time to this challenging new enterprise.

During his lifetime, he received many awards and honorary degrees, but I will always remember him most for his friendliness and his eagerness to share his knowledge with everyone who might come along with a question. His weekly nature column appeared in the Sunday Columbus Dispatch for 57 years, starting in 1922, and resulted in something like 2330 separate columns. This was a labor of love. He was never paid a penny for his efforts.

No account of Ed's life would be complete without mention of Neotoma, his 80-acre wooded valley near Clear Creek, in Hocking County. What had once been a marginal farmer's old house became his cabin, a picturesque log structure that was to provide shelter and hospitality to hundreds of friends and scientists as they literally scoured the little valley for data on its natural history. He acquired the 80-acre tract on Arbutus Run about a half mile from Route 33 in 1921. Photographs taken at that time show hillsides cleared of trees, an eroded landscape, and a shack where a family of marginal farmers lived. Some tree planting was done, but mostly the land was allowed to re-seed itself. Today it is a lush tapestry of maturing trees and thickets. The name Neotoma," by the way, comes from the scientific name for the Allegheny Wood Rat. Shortly after purchasing the property, Ed and some frinds found an individual of this species in one of the many small caves on the tract. It was the first specimen ever collected in Ohio.

Over a period of many years the birds were studied, as were mammals, insects, flowers, mosses, ferns, lichens, reptiles, and amphibians. The valley's geology was investigated and exacting climatic data was accumulated. It might very well be that few areas on the face of the earth were ever so scrupulously scrutinized as was Neotoma.

Ed's wife, Marion, preceded him in death, but she is also remembered by many people throughout Ohio. She taught biology and zoology for many years at OSU and Whetstone High School in Columbus.

A few final words about this man whom I consider the finest all-round naturalist who ever studied the flora and fauna of Ohio. I remember Ed as a man who pursued natural history with unabashed enthusiasm and zeal. Whether it was a ruby-crowned kinglet or a bald eagle, a pipe-vine butterfly or some rare fern or a towering white oak - they were all sustenance for his unappeasable intellectual appetite,

During his lifetime, Ed had over 60 papers published in various professional and scientific journals. He was a past president and honorary life member of the Ohio Academy of Science. He was one of the founding members of the Columbus Audubon Society. He helped organize the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; an elective member of the American Ornithologist's Union, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, the Entomological Society of America, the Wilson Ornithological Club, and a member and past president of the Kit Kat Club. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree at Capital University in 1943. If there was anything Ed did wrong, it was spending way too much time and effort writing that newspaper column. Instead, he could easily have written half a dozen books. I wish I could go back in time and tell him.

Ed Thomas is at the extreme right, in a hat, in this picture of Wheaton Club members taken in 1945 at Neotoma,
Clear Creek Valley, Hocking County.

 

 

 

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