By Christopher Dunn

Rail trail through wetland area

Times of joy and celebration are often punctuated by moments of grief and uncertainty. Just consider all the stories, films, and art that depict the seeming dichotomy of grief and hope at this time of year.

Grief, balanced with joy and hope, has come to many in our profession with the sad news that two titans of modern conservation have passed away: Dr. Tom Lovejoy on Christmas morning and Dr. E.O. Wilson the day following. Both of these heroes of our planet working tirelessly and with joyful abandon in their missions to save the vast expanses of nature (Tom, working primarily in the Amazon) and all the “pieces” of nature (Ed, in his fascination with ants and other insects). Their work, and that of the many others they inspired and mentored, profoundly advanced our understanding of biological diversity (a term that Tom coined) and its critical role in ecosystem health.

Tom Lovejoy (left) and Cornell Botanic Gardens’ director Christopher Dunn

I came to know Ed Wilson during the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congresses that are held every four years, as well as at other scientific and public events. He was always accessible, encouraging, and opinionated. It was he who introduced me to Jane Goodall who I then introduced to my (at that time) plant conservation colleague at the University of Hawaii’s Lyon Arboretum. In her book, “Seeds of Hope,” Jane referred to my colleague as one of her heroes.

Tom Lovejoy, a long-time friend, championed my work, particularly my interest in biocultural conservation. When the IUCN’s 2016 World Conservation Congress was held in Hawaiʻi (and attended by more than 10,000 delegates), it was in no small part to his tireless badgering, on behalf of me and other colleagues, of the US Department of State and some key members of the US House of Representatives.

E.O. Wilson

Both Ed and Tom were humanitarians in the sense that they did not simply advocate conservation for conservation’s sake, but for the sake of us all—for humanity, for all peoples and cultures. We owe them a deep debt of gratitude. The greatest remembrance we can offer is to continue their fight, with joy and hope, to make this world a better one. Despite the sadness we feel at their passing, it is worth remembering the saying that shared grief is half grief and shared joy is double joy. Read more about the lives of Thomas Lovejoy and EO Wilson and the impact of their legacies.