William Tinsley Keeton (1933 - 1980)
On August 20, 1980, Prof. William T. Keeton suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Ithaca, New York. The end came during a social gathering, while he was surrounded by family, friends, and students.
Bill Keeton was born in Roanoke, Virginia on February 3, 1933. From an early age he was an avid naturalist, with a particular interest in Ornithology. His undergraduate university years were spent at the University of Chicago where, as a student of Alfred E. Emerson, he earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1952, and a bachelor of Science in 1954. In 1954 he entered the graduate school of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, planning to take a degree in Entomology. I first met him there and we proved to be kindred spirits in many ways; he quickly became interested in Diplopod systematics and showed an amazing aptitude for almost instant mastery of the subject. His master's thesis was a revision of the xyxtodesmid genus Brachoria
In 1957 Keeton moved to Cornell University to take a doctoral degree, majoring in Entomology under the hymenopterist Howard E. Evans. Intending to specialize in the spiroboloid millipeds of the world, he started with his doctoral thesis which was a monograph of the Spirobolidae - up to that time a chaos of unrelated genera replete with poorly-known species. In short order Bill had redefined the family into a coherent, clearly-cut taxon; organized the genera and subfamilies; and disposed of the numerous synonyms that infested most of the genera. Published in 1960, this revision is a model of careful, modern systematics, the first of its kind for any milliped group.
Following graduation from Cornell, he was immediately employed there as a member of the Faculty in Biology and showed great ability as a lecturer, highly esteemed by his students. He rose rapidly through the faculty ranks at Cornell, and by 1968 achieved the rank of Professor; two years later he became Chairman of the Department of Neurobiology and Behaviour.
Although he continued work in milliped taxonomy during the early 1960's, Bill gradually became more and more involved in the writing of a biology textbook and in the subject of homing and migration in birds. The textbook was an instant success and, having gone through several editions, has sold more copies than any other comparable book ever written; it is used in nearly all English-spaeking countries of the world. The interest in bird migration eventually led to an extensive research program at Cornell, and to the eventual end of his milliped research.
Keeton was always an avid field naturalist and I enjoyed his stimulating company on many excursions in the Appalachian Mountains. Shortly after his marriage in 1958, he and his wife and three friends made a long collecting trip to Mexico, spending several weeks on the isolated Vulcan San Martin in the coastal plain of Vera Cruz. Regrettably the large collections of Myriapods assembled during this excursion remain mostlt unstudied.
Keeton published od total of 13 papers on millipeds, most of them on the taxonomy of spiroboloids and polydesmoids. He named a total of 19 new species, two new genera, and the new families Allopocockiidae and Floridobolidae. He had also made extensive progress towards a monograph of the Rhachodesmidae before his attention was fully captured by his first love, Ornithology, and he kept always the hope of eventually returning to systematic work.
Sudden and unexpected death remains incomprehensible even to the most sophisticated, but it is particularly poignant for this writer to be bereft of a longtime friend and colleague, and for the scientific community to be deprived of a productive and gifted teacher and researcher, just at the very point in a career when major discoveries in the field of bird orientation seemed imminent. For the readers of this notice, his superb monograph on Spirobolidae will long be recognized as a memorial.
Bill Keeton is survived by his wife of 22 years, Barbara Orcut Keeton, a son, and two daugthers.
Richard L. Hoffman, April 1981
Copyright © Centre International de Myriapodologie, Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Görlitz