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Celebration of a life: Marian H. Pettibone

Kristian Fauchald Fauchald.Kristian at NMNH.SI.EDU
Tue Jan 6 15:37:20 EST 2004

Marian H. Pettibone 1908 – 2003

	The doyenne of polychaete studies died 17 December 2003; she was 95 years old 
and had for the last few years lived in a retirement home in her home-town, 
Tacoma, Washington.    

	Marian took emeritus-status in 1978, but that certainly did not slow her down 
at all:  All of the papers on the highly modified polynoids associated with 
the various forms of vents were published well after she retired and several 
very important revisions of genera and subfamilies were also issued.  She kept 
up not only her correspondence with scientists the world over, but also 
maintained her enormous file of cutouts.  For the uninitiated, these are Xerox-
copies (and originals when possible) of everything she could find on every 
species of polychaete, organized by family and alphabetically by genus and 
species.  This developed into an enormously important resource for the 
community at large, and she shared her information happily while she was still 
active; even now, for any person interested in polychaetes, these files can be 
made available for study.  

	Marian’s research was focused on two main issues:  She was by far the all-
time leading expert on scale worms (superfamily Aphroditacea if you will); her 
studies of acoetids, sigalionids, pholoids, polynoids and aphroditids will 
remain important for all future.  In addition she was for a long time busily 
revising the total polychaete fauna of the New England region and issued one 
authoritative volume of what would probably have been a two volume exercise if 
she had completed the whole study.  She got as far as the spionids and 
recognized that revisions needed to clarify that family and several of the 
other large “sedentary” families simply would take more than she had of time 
and interest.  So, after finishing off several minor reviews, she returned, I 
believe happily and with a sense of relief, to her scale worms with renewed 
enthusiasm:  Her studies from the 1980’s of the completely unexpected fauna of 
scale worms associated with the hot vents and cold seeps expanded the 
morphological scope of the group and demonstrated that even within the rather 
rigid pattern of a polynoid, the flexibility in structure and growth was 

	Marian spent an enormous amount of time on pre-submission manuscripts sent to 
her by polychaetologists from all over the world.  If she felt she needed to, 
she would drag out specimens, and even ask to borrow the specimens the author 
had used, if there was something she did not grasp or she did not believe was 
correct.  Many of us have gotten back manuscripts that she had “bled” all over 
with a red pencil in a very difficult-to-read scrawl of a handwriting.  It was 
always worthwhile working ones way through the wilderness:  She had a grasp of 
the literature and of the niceties of systematic zoology as few others.    

	Marian was definitely an independent person, at a time when being independent 
was frowned upon by all and sundry.  Most of us have heard the story of how 
she decided while standing in line for working for the war effort (WWII mind 
you) she could hear how the men standing in the line next were going to get 
paid a lot more than she was, standing in line to become a typist.  She 
switched lines and became a spot-welder on the victory ships being produced at 
the shipyards in Tacoma. It did not take her long to become a quality 
inspector for spot-welding at the shipyard. The episode did not last long 
actually;  she had graduated from Linfield College and started graduate school 
at University of Washington just a few years later.  She came to the 
Smithsonian Institution in the early 1960’s, first on fellowships, but she was 
later hired as the first polychaete curator in the history of the Institution. 
 She was here when the collection moved from the center building out to the 
west wing where it is now and got the collection moved and organized with 
marvelous efficiency.  One of her conditions when she started work here was 
that she would not have to be bothered with administration and could do what 
she wanted for the rest of her career and that is exactly what she did.   

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