In memoriam: Richard Hoffman

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I was saddened to learn this morning that Dr. Richard Hoffman, Curator Emeritus of Recent Invertebrates at VMNH, passed away last night at the age of 84.

Richard was a curator at VMNH for 20 years, and that was after serving as Professor of Biology at Radford University for 29 years. I first met him in 1989, when I was an intern at the museum. He founded and for many years edited all of VMNH’s scientific publications, including Jeffersoniana.

Richard was “officially” an entomologist, but in reality he was more like an old-school naturalist, with an amazing breadth of knowledge about natural history. A regular part of a curator’s job is to try to identify objects that visitors bring to the museum. Occasionally I would be presented with a non-fossil specimen that was a complete mystery to me. When this happened I would take it straight to Richard, who would usually know right away what it was.

Richard had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and stayed informed about all the research being carried out at the museum. He was with us in 1990 at Carmel Church, the day we discovered the holotype skeleton of Eobalaenoptera. He went with us to Solite on numerous occasions to help collect Triassic fossils. The last time I saw Richard was the day before I left on this trip, when he stopped by the paleo lab just to see if we had found anything new; he did this about once a week for as long as I’ve been at the museum.

Richard’s main research interest was millipedes; in his honor, here’s an example of one of Virginia’s millipedes, Narceus americana, that we photographed on the Virginia Creeper Trail walking across Proterozoic Konnarock Formation:

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VMNH’s press release about Richard is here.

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3 Responses to In memoriam: Richard Hoffman

  1. Decker Chaney says:

    I remember roaming around the museum as a little girl and being fascinated by all the arthropods in Dr. Hoffman’s lab. I also enjoyed playing with his dog. He was a very kind man.

  2. Dave Bohaska says:

    I first met Richard while exploring Maryland eastern shore rivers; he was looking for fresh water mussels, again showing his broad interest beyond millipeds. I’ve kept interested in them ever since.

  3. Clayton E. Ray says:

    My first reaction was disbelief, as Richard had just visited the Smithsonian a few days before, and was as lively and interesting as ever. We needed many more years with him — however trite, but true, he was among the last of the oldtime general naturalists. I always knew I would learn something new and unexpected every time I saw him. He can not be replaced.

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