UC Berkeley News


Joseph Gregory

06 December 2007

Joseph Tracy Gregory, a professor emeritus of paleontology well-known for his studies of fossil amphibians and reptiles as well as for his contributions to the history of vertebrate paleontology, died Nov. 18 in Houston, Texas, at age 93.

Joseph Gregory

Most of Gregory's field work was centered on the Triassic reptiles and amphibians of the Dockum and Chinle formations of the American Southwest, notably Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. These animals lived when the first dinosaurs evolved, and Gregory's careful stratigraphic work was instrumental in determining the timing of the appearance of the animals and their identifications. He was also interested in the history of vertebrate paleontology and kept detailed notes on the development of the paleontology department and museum at Berkeley.

Following Charles Camp, another member of the Berkeley faculty, Gregory was editor for two decades (1969-89) of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's Bibliography of Fossil Vertebrates. In 1992 the society established the Joseph T. Gregory Award, given annually to recognize members who have followed Gregory's path and made significant contributions to the development of the field of vertebrate paleontology and to the society.

Gregory was born in Eureka in 1914. His academic career was closely entwined with the program in paleontology at Berkeley, where he received his A.B. in 1935 and his Ph.D. in 1938. His doctoral research, carried out under the mentorship of Professor Ruben Stirton, resulted in a definitive analysis of the Miocene mammalian fauna discovered in Big Springs Canyon, S.D.

Moving eastward for a postdoctoral year at the American Museum of Natural History, he taught at Columbia University. He then accepted a staff position in the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas, where he supervised a Works Progress Administration (WPA) fossil-salvage program. Discovery of a skeleton of the reptile Trilophosaurus by members of that program, which he supervised from 1939 to 1941, caught his interest. Study of this specimen redirected his research toward studies of a variety of fossil reptiles and amphibians.

During World War II, Gregory served in the Army Air Force as a meteorologist; he remained in the Air Force Reserve until 1964, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His service in the Air Force was bracketed by teaching and research positions at the University of Michigan, in 1941 and 1946.

Gregory spent the next 14 years (1946-60) at Yale as a member of the Department of Geology and as a curator in the Peabody Museum of Natural History. In the fall of 1960 he returned to Berkeley to become chair of the Department of Paleontology. He remained active on the faculty and in the UC Museum of Paleontology until his retirement in 1979, and served as its director from 1971 to 1975.

One of Gregory's coups as museum director was acquisition of land around the Blackhawk Ranch quarry in Contra Costa County, a fossil locality donated to the university by the Blackhawk Corp. after it bought the ranch for an exclusive housing development.

Gregory is survived by his son, Carl, of Houston. His wife, paleontologist Jane Everest, died in 2005, and their daughter, Sarah, passed away in 2006.

The family requests that memorial contributions be made to The Nature Conservancy, 4245 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington, VA 22203-1606.

- William Clemens and Kevin Padian, UC Museum of Paleontology