George Gaylord Simpson was one of the greatest and most influential paleontologists of all time.
He made crucial contributions to evolutionary theory and played a vital role in developing the understanding of intercontinental migrations of extinct mammals.
Early Life and Education:
George Gaylord Simpson was born in Chicago on June 16th in 1902. His father, Joseph Alexander Simpson was an attorney and his mother was Helen Kinney. George was the only son and youngest of three children. He grew up in Denver where he enjoyed camping and mountain climbing with his father. Graduating from high school in 1918, he then enrolled at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He transferred to Yale for his final degree year in 1922, obtaining his degree in 1923.
Continuing with his studies, he earned a doctorate in geology from Yale University in 1926, researching North American Mesozoic mammals.
Simpson obtained postdoctoral work at the British Museum of Natural History in London and researched European Mesozoic mammals.
Returning to America in 1927, Simpson took a position at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and he remained there for almost three decades.
He was an officer during the Second World War for two years, 1942 – 1944, stationed mainly in North Africa.
After the war, he became professor of zoology at Columbia University from 1945 to 1959 in addition to his curator duties at the American Museum of Natural History.
In 1959 Simpson left the Museum to take a professorship at Harvard University. For health reasons he accepted a professorship at the University of Arizona in 1968 and he remained there until he retired in 1982, aged 80.
Contributions and Achievements:
Simpson taught at the universities of Columbia, Arizona and Harvard. He was a prolific author, having published around 500 books and articles about topics as diverse as primitive Mesozoic mammals of the American west, to Tertiary faunas of North and South America, to statistics, taxonomy and evolution. Some of his major works include “Tempo and mode in evolution” (1944), “The meaning of evolution” (1949) and “The major features of evolution” (1953).
In the 1930’s he embarked on three field trips to Patagonia in Argentina to collect fossil specimens for his research on the unique Neogene (between 2 and 23 million years ago) mammals of South America.
His 1945 publication “Principles of Classification and a Classification of Mammals” has been a standard reference book for over fifty years.
He is widely considered to be one of the founders of the Synthetic Theory of Evolution. Simpson demonstrated from the fossil record, that the rate of evolution through time was variable, sometimes rapid by ‘quantum evolution’ and at other times occurring in small steps.
Simpson was physically a weak and frail person, but he was a indefatigable field geologist.
Personal, Later Life and Death:
Simpson secretly married Lydia Petroja in 1923. They had four daughters but the marriage ended in divorce. In 1938 he married psychologist Anne Roe and they were together for forty six years.
George Gaylord Simpson worked as a professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona until his retirement in 1982. He died on October 6, 1984 from pneumonia and complications following a cruise in the South Pacific. He was 82 years old.