Dr. John A. Wilson (1914-2008)

With much sadness I heard of the passing of Dr. John A. Wilson earlier this week (photo courtesy of the National Park Service). Dr. Wilson was a charter member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and founded the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab at the University of Texas in Austin, supervising and influencing numerous students for over sixty years. Whereas his main field of study was Tertiary mammals, he studied under Ermine Cowles Case at the University of Michigan and published several papers on Triassic vertebrates (Wilson 1941; 1948) as well as a paper describing topotypes of the aetosaur Desmatosuchus spurensis (Wilson, 1950). Although I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Wilson in person, I wrote to him back in 2002 regarding his relationship with Case (who originally described Desmatosuchus, the topic of my graduate work). Dr. Wilson kindly responded with a handwritten letter containing much information about Case. I'd like to share a portion of that letter here:

"I was the first of two graduate students that Dr. Case had at Univ. Michigan. In the fall of my freshman year I went to his office at the museum to introduce myself and to tell him I wanted to major in VP. His first words to me were: "Son, you are a damn fool, where do you expect to get a job?" I replied that I didn't know, but maybe something will open up. We talked a while and then he said "when do you want to go to work?" I swallowed and said "now!" He pulled a piece of amphibian bone from the Permian of N. Texas and put me to work cleaning it."

From the influence that Dr. Wilson had on his friends, students, and colleagues, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, and the profession of paleontology, it is clear that much opened up for this remarkable man.


Wilson, J. A. 1941. An interpretation of the skull of Buettneria, with special reference to the cartilages and soft parts. Contributions from the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology 6:71-111.

Wilson, J. A. 1948. A small amphibian from the Triassic of Howard County, Texas. Journal of Paleontology 22:359-361.

Wilson, J. A. 1950. Cope's types of fossil reptiles in the collection of the Bureau of Economic Geology , University of Texas. Journal of Paleontology 24:113-115.

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