Tom led Planet Forward's 2017 Storyfest winners to Camp 41 in the Amazon rainforest, outside of Manaus, Brazil. Also pictured, from left behind Tom, Frank Sesno, Josh Ettinger, and Zé Luís Carmago. (Dan Reed/Planet Forward)
Remembering Dr. Thomas Lovejoy
It is with immense sadness that we mourn the passing of our beloved friend and Planet Forward Advisory Council member, Tom Lovejoy, on Christmas day. He was 80 years old.
For more than 50 years, Tom was a committed conservationist and one of the world’s leading advocates for and authorities on the Amazon rainforest. Tom popularized the phrase “biological diversity” and over the years, he became known as the “godfather of biodiversity.” Tom was Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, he led the conservation program for more than a decade at the World Wildlife Fund, he served as a Senior Fellow at the UN Foundation, and he was a professor at George Mason University where he was scientific director for GMU’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth.
But it was Tom’s humanity, warmth, generous spirit, and unflagging optimism that we will always remember. No matter how busy he was, no matter who else he had on his calendar, he always made time for Planet Forward and for our students, who strive to tell stories about biodiversity, conservation, climate change, science, and the planet that can make a difference. As a council member, he always joined our meetings and brought thoughtful advice about our work and mission.
In 2017, Tom led a Planet Forward storytelling expedition to his Camp 41 research station in the Brazilian Amazon. We had about 15 students representing wonderfully diverse schools – from Jackson State University in Mississippi to the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, from the George Washington University to Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Tom made it a truly unforgettable trip. He took us to an early morning sunrise over the rainforest. Then we piled into well-worn SUVs to drive to his remote forest research station, Camp 41, deep in the rainforest. We explored by day and slept in hammocks by night. We saw and heard biodiversity firsthand. Tom explained what these forests represent and what is at stake.
While at Camp 41, one of our students, Jayme Dittmar, interviewed Tom on the subject of forest fragmentation. She produced a dramatic video. I recommend it to you. It captures Tom’s unique voice and the question he spent a lifetime addressing: “Why is connectivity important in the rainforest?”
We will dedicate this year’s Planet Forward Summit on April 7, 2022, to Tom Lovejoy. We are supporting the creation of the Thomas E. Lovejoy Fellowship for Biological Diversity, which will honor Tom’s work, support science, and invest directly in people who are striving for the kind of future Tom envisioned and sought to advance all his life.
Mostly, we will never forget this incredible, warm, tireless person who contributed so much to science and to so many to make this a better world for every creature upon it.