Remembering Bill Stanley

The Field Museum suffered a profound loss with the death of Bill Stanley, Director of the Gantz Family Collections Center. Bill died on October 6, 2015, while conducting fieldwork in the mountains of Ethiopia.

Bill exuded energy, boundless curiosity, and deep joy of living. He was a master storyteller, capable of engaging everyone in his love of collections. Bill started at the Museum in 1989 as Collection Manager of Mammals and spent the next quarter century caring for that collection, building it into one of the best and most visited mammal collections in the world. He also enhanced that collection, and our understanding of the mammals of Africa, through numerous field trips, primarily in the mountains of Tanzania, as well as Uganda, Malawi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. And he trained dozens of interns and students in the US and Africa, enlightened untold numbers of travelers on tours of the Serengeti, and mesmerized tens of thousands of visitors at Field Museum Members’ Nights.

In early 2013 Bill assumed even more responsibility as leader of the Center that oversees all of the 30 million specimens and objects in our Museum. Bill knew that every single specimen had a riveting story behind it. He saw it as his mission to get others to hear that story and investigate further. During a period of unprecedented change in the museum world, particularly in terms of increasing digital and online accessibility of collections to the scientific community, Bill embraced the challenge of unlocking the information in our collections. Bill was determined to make our invisible treasures visible and immediately useful in research, teaching, and conservation. In the past three years Bill charted a vital course for natural history collections, not only at the Field, but in museums around the world.

Bill’s legacy at the Museum has two intertwined strands: his commitment to museum collections as a means to “find out what makes this planet tick” (as he so often put it), and his passion for education and outreach—whether training young African researchers, creating field guides, or engaging Museum visitors. Both strands end in one place: deepening scientific understanding of the world around us, for the scientific community, and for the scientists, conservationists, and educators of the future.#

Learn more about Bill and his legacy

Bill was a prolific researcher and educator—as witnessed by this overview of his educational background, scientific publications and outreach efforts.

Bill was a frequent interview subject, both for The Field Museum’s own Emily Graslie on The Brain Scoop, and on programs like WTTW's Chicago Tonight, whereheunveiled the Olinguito (2013), discussed The Battle for Bats (2011), and examined the legacy of Carl Akeley, "The Father of Modern Taxidermy" (2008).

On November 6, 2015, the Museum held a memorial service honoring Bill’s life (see photo below). Watch the speakers’ tributes to Bill.

Fellow mammalogist and Field Museum curator Bruce Patterson honored Bill in a tribute written for the International Federation of Mammalogists. Additionally, Bruce's tribute appeared in an issue of In The Field, the Museum's member magazine. The Field Museum also invites you to share your own memories or photos of Bill on the Friends of Bill Stanley Facebook page.

In Bill’s honor, the Museum created the Bill Stanley Memorial Fund. Gifts support the interface of exploration and training with Field Museum collections, with special opportunities for students from Africa.