November 18, 1929 – August 20, 2018
Dick passed away August 20, 2018 at age 88 at the Saline Evangelical Home. He was born in White Heath Illinois, and grew up in Piatt County, Illinois. He and his wife Lorraine were married in 1950, and they moved their family to Ann Arbor where Dick began his long and successful career teaching at the University of Michigan. In 1974 Dick and Lorrie purchased their beloved farm in Manchester Michigan.
Dick received his Associate Degree from Blackburn College in 1948, his Bachelors of Biological Science from Illinois State Normal University in 1950, and his Masters of Science and a Ph.D of Entomology from Ohio State in 1951 and 1956 respectively. He was in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky from 1951 to 1953.
During his career at the U of M Dick held many positions including Director of the Museum of Zoology, Professor of Biology, the Donald W. Tinkle Collegiate Professor, the Theodore H. Hubbell Distinguished University Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Insects. He had over 40 graduate, masters, and post graduate students; and published over 140 scientific papers and books while with the U of M. He did extensive field work in numerous places around the world, including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for 15 months of systematic work on crickets in Australia with Dan Otte in 1968.
He received much recognition for his work in Entomology, Insect Behavior, Speciation, Animal Behavior, Human Behavior, Morality, Kinship Systems, Evolutionary Ecology, and Evolution. Some of his numerous honors, awards, and medals include a bronze medal from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the outstanding paper presented at the annual meeting in 1961; the Daniel Giraud Elliott gold medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1991; the inaugural Distinguished Scientific Career Contribution Award from the Human Behavior and Evolution Society in 2008; Distinguished Animal Behaviorist in 2002; along with membership in several Honor and Scientific Societies including the National Academy of Sciences; and distinguished and lectureships throughout the U.S. His teaching awards included the Amoco Good Teaching Award in1977; the Outstanding Educator Award in 1982; and Excellence in Education Award in 1995.
Dick had many varied talents and hobbies which he focused on full time after retirement. He was a talented artist in many medias: pen and ink drawings; oil paintings; wood carvings; and colored pencil drawings. He wrote and illustrated autobiographical stories, children’s books, verse, cartoons, and horse training manuals, often with the help of Lynn Lesko. He was also a musician, and could play almost any instrument he chose to pick up. He continued studying all aspects of the horse business; horse social behavior; and horse-human interactions while managing, breeding, raising, and training Quarter Horses from his 2 herds, with the help of Megan Kanta Young. He farmed 80 acres with his neighbor and friend “old” Tom Pyle; collected and repaired antique toys: and created unique knives, fanciful wooden toy vehicles, and numerous other items. His favorite things to do were to be working on the farm, spending time with his grandchildren and extended family, and carving his canes - all of which gave him immense pleasure up until close to the end of his life .
Dick is survived by his loving wife of 68 years Lorraine Kearnes Alexander; his brother Noel (Donna); his daughters Susan (Sarita) and Nancy; his grandchildren Morgan Alexander Johnson, Lydia Lorraine Turner, Lincoln Alexander Turner, and Winona Johnson Alexander; and his great-grandson Ezekiel Alexander Johnson; and several nieces and nephews; and “young’ Tom Pyle who lived with Lorrie and Dick for years while growing up.
Dick was a loving husband, wonderful dad, and a perfect grandpa - who was loved dearly, and will be much missed by all of us. A private memorial service will be held at a yet to be determined date.
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September 5, 2018
Richard D. Alexander died on 20 August 2018. I have lost an exceptional mentor, and a terrific friend and colleague.
When I was a senior at The University of Michigan in fall 1970 and planning to go to medical school in fall 1971, I enrolled in a class called Evolutionary Ecology, taught by Richard Alexander. His lectures were mesmerizing, and his understanding of the key issues was outstanding. By the end of the semester my interest in medicine had transformed into a fascination with alarm calling, group-living, kin selection, mating systems, senescence, and supergenes.
I have always marveled at Alexander’s remarkable, prescient understanding of behavioral ecology and sociobiology. He had never seen my study animals (prairie dogs), for example, but he would boldly predict what they should and should not do. And he was always right!
Alexander expected me and his graduate students to hustle our own grant support. The latter strategy sometimes seemed mean and heartless when so many other graduate students benefited easily, effortlessly, and handsomely from their advisors' copious grant support. But the sagacity of Alexander's method paid dividends when we became assistant professors and knew exactly how to craft competitive grant proposals.
Alexander's ability to see the bigger picture was keen, his common sense was exemplary, and his sense of fairness was extraordinary. Forty-one years have elapsed since I was his graduate student, but I still chatted or corresponded with him until recently for wisdom and guidance. He worked harder and thought more clearly and more deeply than anybody I have ever known. I dedicated my first book about prairie dogs to Alexander, and I named one of my sons after him.
Brilliance, compassion, determination, insights, integrity—Alexander had these fine qualities and many more. No other scientist has influenced my modus operandi more than Richard Alexander. I will miss him dearly.
John L. Hoogland
September 3, 2018
I worked with Dick for many years as a co-curator of insects at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. He is remembered as a true Renaissance man, with interests as varied as crickets, human behavior, naked mole-rats and horses and with contributions in each of these areas. Specific memories include Dick walking me through the outbuildings at his farm where I collected mites - some species collected there are the only representatives of those species in the museum collection today. On a more personal note, I was deeply grateful to Dick for his hiring of my late first wife, June OConnor, who dealt with breast cancer for a number of years. When she was unable to find a job due to her medical condition, Dick hired her to type the manuscript for his book, The Biology of Moral Systems. With June's background in psychology, she was able to converse with Dick on this topic, and he would always engage with her respectfully.
He leaves important legacies in many fields and is truly missed.
August 27, 2018
I've just learned today of Dick Alexander's passing and I'm saddened to hear the news. Dick was transformative in my intellectual growth. As a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology today at Princeton University, Dick taught me not only how evolution worked, but how to do science. He showed me and others in his evolutionary biology class how to ask penetrating questions; how to marshal evidence to answer them; and then how to present arguments in convincing and compelling ways. He was an intellectual giant who loved to solve thorny evolutionary questions and he loved to argue and push the envelope. Yet, he was always there to support his students and colleagues who he respected. As a mentor he will be sorely missed, but his legacy will last forever.
August 27, 2018
Our condolences to your family. Uncle Richard was a unique man and will be missed. Praying for peace and comfort for you all.
Dave Mary Luke and Thomas Alexander
White Heath Illinois 💕
Jenni Wayland Devine
August 26, 2018
When I was a young girl we used to go to our cousins the Alexander’s farm and ride horses. I remember Alex being so kind and gracious. He is a great man. I am so sorry for your loss, may God give you strength and comfort through this time. My prayers are with you!
Love, Jenni (Wayland) Devine
August 24, 2018
I know Dan Otte who spoke very highly of Dick. Rest easy.