It is with great sadness that we relay news of the recent passing of our friend and long-time colleague, George Gilchrist. George joined NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology in 2009, and he was a stalwart and beloved member of the Evolutionary Processes cluster since that time. George made many valuable contributions to the NSF, the Biological Sciences Directorate, and the scientific community writ large.
George earned a B.S. at Arizona State University, an M.S. at Brown University and then followed his advisor, Joel Kingsolver, to the University of Washington, where he got his PhD in 1993 working on the evolution of thermal sensitivity. His most famous paper, which has been cited over 400 times, came from that dissertation (Gilchrist, G. W. 1995. Specialists and generalists in changing environments. I. Fitness landscapes of thermal sensitivity. The American Naturalist, 146(2), 252-270).
Following his post-doc at the University of Washington with Ray Huey, George took a faculty position at Clarkson University for 4 years, before moving on to the College of William & Mary for an additional 7 years. He then came to NSF. As a program officer in the Evolutionary Processes cluster, George played an important role in establishing the Dimensions of Biodiversity program with co-funding partners in Brazil, China and South Africa, as well as in managing the BEACON Science and Technology Center. George’s career reflected a keen interest in understanding the relationship between genetic mechanisms and ecological complexity as well as improvement of the teaching of Evolution. He became an elected AAAS Fellow in 2013.
George will be missed for his dedication to science and the scientific community, for his generosity and love of friends and family, and for his wit and charm that made him such a beloved member of DEB. He took a special interest in guiding early-career scientists through the process of writing proposals and managing awards. With his wife Katy, George was generous in welcoming and entertaining many members of the NSF community and introducing new program officers and staff to the DC region and to each other. He loved cooking outstanding meals, keeping a wonderful wine cellar, and preparing delicious cocktails. He also loved opera, and a wide variety of music, attending many concerts in the area. The Robert Burns night parties he organized with haggis, single malt scotch and poetry readings were the stuff of legend. His warmth as a host and close connections with local restaurants made for many memorable panel dinners and gatherings that extended beyond the workday.
He is survived by his wife of 38 years, Katy Gilchrist, son David Gilchrist and David’s fiancé, Brittany Moore, both from St. Paul, MN.
You may learn more about his life in his obituary in the Washington Post here.
We invite George’s many friends and colleagues to offer their thoughts and memories of him in response to this blog post in the comment section below. There will be a slight delay before your comment becomes visible.
The loss of a dear friend and colleague brings sadness to many. I’m sad because I will long longer be able to add new memories to the existing ones George and I shared. But I’m especially sad that George himself won’t be able to continue to enjoy and contribute to the varied experiences of life – George lived life and deserved more.
George not only enjoyed life, but he especially enjoyed sharing it with others. He was an excellent scientist — skilled in theory and empirical research. He was a statistical and graphical wizard. But could he cook? Yes, he was an excellent chef and party energizer — he loved good food, good wine, and single malts. But could he fly a kite? Yes, he even designed and built his own kites. George once arrived at our home in Seattle carrying a sewing machine, which he needed for a kite he was making with a distinguished kite maker in the area.
George had a booming voice and an ebullient personality. He was supremely self-confident in his views – and he let you know if he felt your views were misguided. But if he did become convinced that he was in fact wrong, he’d happily change his position — and self-confidently and enthusiastically support the one.
George’s passion for life will always stay in my memories and will in fact trigger them. I will never cook or eat paella without fondly remembering ones we shared in Valencia, Seattle, and Arlington. If I’m visiting a town that has a José Andrés restaurant, I’ll eat there and raise a toast to George in remembrance of many wonderful years of friendship with him and admiration of him.
I was really afraid of George for a long time because he seemed gruff and I was a goof. I served on a panel with him and wanted desperately for him to think highly of me because I respected him and I needed validation as a junior academic. His kind words about my efforts really moved me and he even encouraged me to go to NSF as a program officer which I did shortly after. I still wanted his approval even when we were both POs but I also wanted to mess with him a little – I think the first time I got him to laugh is when I asked him which wine pairs best with grant rejections. I realized pretty quickly that he was a big teddy bear and that’s how I’ll remember him – he was an important mentor and friend, and I will miss him.
I know George only through serving on various panels that he chaired or helped to lead, but he became a favorite reason for me to sign up to participate in that review process. George was always a stalwart and outspoken advocate for strong science, but at the same time he never forgot that there are real people behind every great research endeavor, and his dedication to supporting and fostering the up-and-coming cohorts in our discipline was a hallmark of his leadership style. I will greatly miss his wisdom, humor, and humanity.
Sad to hear of George’s passing. I new him going back to my grad school days at UW and the Kingsolver/Huey lab group where George was an encouraging and thoughtful mentor to many young investigators.
George was the program officer on my first NSF award – I still remember his jovial voice when he called me on the phone with the news. He was a kind man and a thoughtful program officer.
I remember very well working with George on BEACON. He was invaluable in helping me to understand and support environmental science and he was a bulwark for the entire directorate. His passing is a huge loss for the BIO family.
George and I shared a love for evolution and also for fine wine. I first got to know him when I sat on a grant panel for him, but the last time that we really talked was at a BEACON Congress, and it was my birthday. I joined George and some others at the hotel bar and we ended up having dinner there and they all toasted to my birthday. I remember thinking that it was a lovely birthday after all. George told us all his plan to retire on the West Coast and I was looking forward to seeing more of him. So sad that he is gone, love to his family, I feel your loss deeply.
George was a terrific scientist, and a superb program officer for our BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. He was also deeply involved in the education and outreach activities for the Society for the Study of Evolution in Action as well as the American Society of Naturalists. George will be greatly missed by all of us who had the privilege and pleasure of knowing him. I extend my deepest condolences to his family.
I first met George when we began as NSF program officers. George was a serious colleague who was a wonderful practitioner in the art of Science and a generous host for many social gatherings. One could always rely on George for two things – a ready smile, and a practical answer. Tipping a scotch (with and eye-droplet of H2O) in very, very fond memory of George.
Yesterday I learned that George died. What an indescribable loss. My heart feels as if someone squeezed it to make it smaller. I loved George. I loved his gruffness. I loved that he was intimidating but could be very supportive. I loved his honesty. And, as others have mentioned, I loved his love of life. Fine wine and drinks can be expensive, so as a professor at a tiny liberal arts college in Iowa (message: POOR, no $$), I learned that I needed to be cautious during dinners with George (I loved them all, whether or not I indulged as much as I would have liked).
My academic “bonding” moment with George happened during our last lunch together. As children, we had both read the same Time/Life books about evolution. We could both remember the same illustrations and photos. And we were both inspired: how do we explain life? Is there a more interesting question?
RIP, you done good, and made the world smarter and better – Class of 1972, Cortez High School, Phoenix Arizona. Single malt in your honor.