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Elwyn LaVerne Simons

July 14, 1930 March 6, 2016
Elwyn LaVerne Simons
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Obituary for Elwyn LaVerne Simons

Elwyn LaVerne Simons July 14, 1930 – March 6, 2016

It was a hot summer with dust storms clouding the landscape of Kansas when on July 14, 1930 the first child – a son of Verna Irene Cuddeback Simons and Verne Franklin Simons -- Elwyn LaVerne was born in Lawrence, Kansas.
Elwyn was tiny – just about 5 pounds -- as he arrived prematurely, and rumor has it that he spent the first months of his life sleeping. He grew up strong at his parent’s home in Houston, Texas.

Elwyn showed many talents and interests even as a child, was voraciously reading books from the local library where the librarian remarked: “Elwyn Simons read all the books in the children’s department.” He showed great artistic talent early on and developed his innate skills during several years attending arts classes at the Houston Art Museum.

He was an impish child and when he was 5 years old his brother Herbert was born into the family. Summer travels to visit the grandparents in Kansas and road trips all over the western United States were routine and opened up Elwyn’s mind to nature, family history, and singing folksongs together with his father’s parents, Frank and Myrtle. Interests that accompanied Elwyn throughout his life.

He was an Eagle Scout and enjoyed growing up exploring nature of the area around Houston, Texas.

Elwyn was the first student of the newly opened Oran M. Roberts Elementary School in the neighborhood where his parents had built their home on Dryden Road, near the Rice University Campus. He graduated from Lamar High School and entered Rice University as an undergraduate student. There he took classes in Biology and this is where he found his love for beekeeping.
An important person who shaped both Elwyn’s and Herbert’s life growing up was the loving Pearline Johnson, who for many years was a member of the family household and took care of the two young boys.

The friendship with one of the neighborhood boys Elwyn grew up with, Robert ‘Bobby’ Whiting, is still alive to this day. Bobby – a country doctor -- and his wife Marlene ended up living and practicing in the small town of Hardin, Montana and the families got together in Montana and Wyoming. Bobby was even able to join Elwyn on a paleontological expedition in the Fayum of Egypt.

Upon graduating from Rice University Elwyn was admitted to graduate school at Princeton University in New Jersey and this was the period when he – under the guidance of his professor, Glenn Lowell Jepsen – participated in many fossil hunting expeditions to the badlands of the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming. These expeditions were crucial to establishing his life’s career in paleontology hunting the dawn primates and apes all over in the world’s fossil bearing geological deposits. This period also was the beginning of a lifetime friendship with the Churchill family in Powell, Wyoming where Elwyn and his family spent wonderful times thanks to the noble hospitality of Thelma, Winston Sr., Winston Jr., and Beryl Churchill. The friendship with the Churchill family is still alive and the basis for boundless, engaging stories that Elwyn was so skilled at telling.

While at Princeton another life long friendship blossomed with John Terrence “Terry” Maltsberger.

After graduating with a Ph.D. from Princeton Elwyn applied for and received a Marshall Scholarship which made it possible for him to become a graduate student at Oxford University in England where he met some of the most distinguished scholars of human evolution at the time: Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark and Joseph S. Weiner, who profoundly shaped Elwyn’s evolutionary thinking.

After receiving his DPhil from Oxford University, Elwyn returned to the U.S and accepted a teaching position at the University of Pennsylvania where, coincidentally, his life once again intersected with that of Terry Maltsberger who, at the time was a medical intern there. Soon thereafter Elwyn accepted a position at Yale University where he was Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Peabody Museum and a faculty member in the Department of Geology.

It was at Yale that he met his first wife, Mary Fitch, whose infant daughter Katherine Bailey he adopted, and where their son David Brenton Simons was born. Mary Fitch and Elwyn were separated in 1968 and divorced in the fall of 1972. Elwyn married Friderun Annursel Ankel, D.Sc. et habil. in December of 1972 in the home of Grant E. and Marty Meyer in Madison, Connecticut.

While at Yale University, Elwyn did field work in the Silawik Hills of India in the 1960s. There he met and hired Prithijit Chatrath – a young gentleman from Chandigarh, who became a lifelong colleague and friend and who worked with Elwyn as field manager and preparator both at Yale and, later, at Duke University.

Elwyn and Friderun’s children Cornelia Verna Mathilde Seiffert (née Simons) (1974) and Verne Franklin Herbert Simons (1976) were born in New Haven, Connecticut.
In the spring of 1977, Elwyn accepted the position of Professor in the Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, and Director of the Primate Center (now Lemur Center) at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

In 1961 Elwyn initiated field exploration in the Fayum region of Egypt, where he successfully unearthed the fossil record of early primate evolution. From that time until 2011, Dr. Simons led over 70 field expeditions to Egypt, Madagascar, India, Iran, Nepal, and Wyoming.

In 1981 Elwyn ventured to the island nation of Madagascar where he was able to help open the doors for other western scientists and where he became instrumental to both, the daunting conservation challenge of the unique, endangered branch of primates roaming exclusively in Madagascar – the lemurs, and to uncovering their sub-fossil history all over the magical island.

Elwyn received many honors over the years. In 1975 he was the winner of the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist's Award in Germany and he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1981. In 1998 he was designated a “Knight of the National Order” by the government of Madagascar. Elwyn was presented with the Founder’s Award of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals in 1996 and has been the recipient of many more prestigious awards
-- too many to mention here-- including the Charles R. Darwin Award for
Lifetime Achievement from the American Association of Physical
Anthropology in 2000 followed, in 2001, by the Lifetime Achievement Award from Geological Survey and Mining Authority of Egypt.

Elwyn authored and co-authored more than 300 scientific articles and books. He had many interests and hobbies like genealogy and authored two volumes in this area of expertise: the Simons Family History and the Cuddeback Family in England and America. He also was an avid bee-keeper, loved gardening, studied the history of Christianity, and the Maya language.

Elwyn retired from Duke University in 2011 and he and Friderun moved to
Peoria, Arizona to live near their son Verne’s family.

Elwyn passed away peacefully in the early hours of Sunday, March 6, 2016 in Peoria, Arizona. His urn will be interred in Grace Lawn Cemetery in Howard, Kansas where his parents are buried.


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