Two lives lived through a paleontological window

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Published: 14Apr2020

Two people connected to the Redpath Museum died on April 8, 2020: Robert “Bob” Lynn Carroll, vertebrate paleontologist, aged 81 years old and Joan Clark, patent lawyer, aged 90 years old.

These two people lived about 4 blocks from each other, knew of each other’s life and work and were linked to each other through Joan’s father: Thomas Henry Clark. Both Thomas Clark and Bob Carroll were paleontologists who came to McGill University as young postdoctoral students. Both went on to be part of the Faculty for most of their professional lives: Bob in the Dept. of Biology and Thomas Clark in Geology (now the Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences). Thomas Clark and Bob Carroll co-authored (with Colin Stearn) the three editions of the standard textbook for university and college geology courses: Geological Evolution of North America. Thomas Clark and Bob Carroll were both Directors of the Redpath Museum; the former from 1932 – 1952 and the latter from 1985 – 1991.

Bob Carroll was an American-Canadian vertebrate paleontologist who specialized in Paleozoic and Mesozoic amphibians and reptiles. You can watch vidoes of Bob Carroll talking about his work and research for science.ca in 2009. 

You can read about his life on his Wikipedia page here. Bob's obituary was written by his colleagues and friends in the field of fossil research. They considered him the grandfather of Canadian paleontology.

Joan Clark was the only child of Thomas Clark and of Olive Pritchard, a McGill science graduate (1925). Joan Clark obtained a B.A. from McGill, then pursued a law degree in French at the Université de Montréal. As a woman she was a pioneer in the choices she made for herself. You can read about her life, work and optimistic approach to change here.

In 2017 Joan Clark was honoured with an award from the Law Graduates Association (ADDUM) of the University of Montreal. At the award ceremony she shared a story about reading to her father just before his death at the age of 102. She read a passage from the 1995 book The Sixth Extinction by Richard Leakey. Leakey talks about looking at the past through a window, in his case a paleontological window, but this can apply to a window through which one looks at anything in the past.

Leakey wrote:

“If there is one single impression you gain from what is to be seen through this window it is encapsulated in the simple word change. Life’s flow is in a constant dynamic change. Life seen through a paleontological window is like a kaleidoscopic image, where change is not only natural but inevitable.“

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