Henry Horn 34 Replies Henry Horn, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, emeritus, died March 14, 2019
Had the fortune of meeting Henry and having him as my PhD coadvisor in EEB ´07-12. Will greatly remember his attentiveness listening and inquiring eyes at my every word, marveling at my curiosity and instigating me, yes instigating me, to move further.
Deeply regret not having had the chance to take him back to my home country, Colombia, to see the paramos we talked so much about.
His presence and wisdom will be greatly missed bu all who had the honor to meet him.
I never had the chance to talk to Professor Horn, but I would always see a row of free books and a clipboard for nature walks, and hear music floating from his room, whenever I walked up to the third floor of Guyot. I remember watching “Nature Walks with Henry Horn” and often told myself I would go on one when I was less ‘busy.’ When a sophomore emailed listservs about establishing a Princeton Feederwatch Project, I immediately emailed back suggesting he connect with Professor Horn. Even though I never met him, Professor Horn had a large impact on campus, both direct and indirect, and he will be missed.
The world has lost one of the greatest minds in Ecology. Henry was the ultimate natural historian with a passion for birds, trees and pretty much everything else. Henry’s work on the geometry of tree growth and subsequent markov chain models to simulate forest dynamics was seminal to the development of the field. Henry was my mentor, my idol, and for the five years that I spent at EEB in Princeton my co-advisor and friend. He rescued me when I doubted the value of my own work, criticized me when my questions and hypothesis were weak, and celebrated with me when I found interesting patterns in my data. Henry, I will miss you but your legacy lives with me and the rest of us who had the pleasure of knowing you and working with you. Long live Farnesworth!
Dammit Henry! Unacceptable…
Thank you Henry for everything you gave to us. A great person, superb teacher, always in our memories…..
Thank you Henry for everything you gave to us.
A great person, superb teacher, always in our memories…..
When I arrived on campus over a dozen years ago, Henry was the first person I met who I felt a true kinship with. I felt like I’d truly landed in the right place, even though neither he nor I seemed really mainstream in the modern world. He understood me as an ecologist (and I’d read his papers as a grad student), and was enthusiastic like no other about my research and work interests. His contagious enthusiasm and critical observations (in the best sense) on more then one occasion lit my own fires when I was feeling less than inspired.
His deep knowledge and story-telling skill about the natural character of this campus has been an immense treasure. In a recent moment of great fortune my team managed to capture him in a short video series called Nature Walks With Henry (on YouTube). What emerged from that story-telling is something I will treasure forever, and I hope is a source of enjoyment for everyone who knew him or was influenced by him.
To me, Henry was an inspired ecologist, and the archetypal naturalist – a wild-haired, passionate, gear-encrusted trekker who knew the goings-on of every critter on campus. Where the peregrines nested, and what they ate. Why in fact some Princeton squirrels are black. The marvels of skunk cabbage. Why Nassau Street is where it is if you know a bit about human history and geology. And last but not least, how everyone can be a naturalist with a few simple tools and a friend to swap stories with. During his Friday morning walks he was gently training naturalists and champions for nature – which of course means he was a champion for humanity.
I will so miss him. And I treasure all he has done to enrich my life and many others’.
I was lucky enough to interview Professor Horn and write a profile of him as a final assignment for my class last semester. We sat together in his office for about three hours, and he enchanted me with his stories, witty remarks and the relics of his deep and varied interests that filled his office. He was a profoundly kind, generous and loving spirit. He gave me, a 22-year-old, a new idea of what it was to live youthfully and vigorously. I talked to him about his manuscript for his book on butterflies that he was submitting, and three other books ideas that he was pursuing. I’m so grateful to have met him and I’m sad that I won’t be able to spend the rest of the semester’s Friday mornings taking nature walks with him. He was an incredible man with an amazing spirit, and has inspired me as an ecologist and a person.
The greatest Naturalist in the history of Princeton University.
Thank you Henry for 20 years of conversations, ideas and most importantly genuine interest. I will miss you my friend and what you have meant for everybody that passed through EEB over many decades: Curiosity, compassion integrity and a healthy dose of skepticism towards those who believe that theoretical models are unassailable.
Professor Horn’s nature walks and his love, respect, and fascination with all nature’s creatures on our campus were legendary. His generous spirit, wit, and wisdom will be deeply missed. Thank you, Professor Horn.
Prof Horn’s knew all the whistles of birds who lived on the deer paths at Princeton. He could tell you the names of every plant as well. He always made a point to attended the “Bring Your Kids To Work” nature walks at our department. He would fascinate young and old on how interesting he could make a walk through the woods be. I particularly like the fact that he knew stories about how the landscapes and watershed had been changed since he first arrived on campus in 1966.
He will surely be missed by my grandchildren and by all who attended those walks. He made such a great difference to people’s everyday lives. My condolences to his wife and family.
I am forever grateful that Henry taught me by example that boundless awe, fascination, and wonder can sustain limitless creativity, curiosity, and motivation directed toward discovery, insight, and understanding. Thank you, Henry!
We were neighbors to Henry and Elizabeth for a year. What a wonderful and lovely couple – always so kind to our little girls. It was clear even from how he kept his front garden that he was really into nature and plants. Henry was a very gentle soul. My condolences to the family.
I saw Henry in a world seldom visited by academics…the world of environmental preservation in the Town of Princeton. At countless Planning Board and Zoning Board and Master Plan and Town Councils and other meetings he was an effective voice speaking for the birds and the trees. The town administrators often say “Prof Henry Horn said…..” His impact on town planning was/is immense. In many town meetings I have heard statements like “Where is Prof Horn? We need his opinion on this…”
Henry Horn came to Princeton two years before me, and we attended each other’s retirement celebrations in 2011. Fifty years of collegiality. Our relationship began as casually saying hello on the Guyot stairs, and evolved to campaigns on behalf of our students and our shared values. I was envious of his astute ability to critique a student’s essay, poster, or thesis.
We shared a deep interest in the role of museums in bringing natural science into the imaginations of our students. We battled together, in our own ways, administrators who said about students and museums, essentially, “let them eat cake”. Specifically, if a student wanted to see natural history, our administrators declared that he/she could take a bus to the Trenton State Museum.
According to polls, fifty percent of administrators, faculty, and students do not understand evolution. In spite of the headwind from this ignorance, Henry continued, with a twinkle in his eyes, to teach by setting examples….taking people out of Guyot into the natural world of the Campus, and further afield to the Institute Woods.
I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Horn last year, as he advised one of our Ecology labs. One week, we went to the forest on a windy day to collect soil samples, and while we were all cold and miserable, Professor Horn would tell us about each tree and animal we came across with the most infectious smile on his face. We will miss Professor Horn very dearly — thank you for the kindness and enthusiasm that you so graciously brightened our days with.
Rest in peace, kind man and gentle soul with sharp wit. You taught us about the beauty of nature right in our own backyard, demonstrated the value of music and (computer) art in life, and shared the practical and spiritual value of compassion.
Henry’s comittment to this university community will endure . His voice will ring on within the chapel and he will be remembered for his accomplishments. Proud to be a part of such a legacy. Best Regards to the entire Horn family. Thank you for sharing with us all here at
Henry served on the Peer Review Committee for the Life Sciences Research Foundation that funds postdoctoral fellowships with me for many years. During this time I got to know him quite well. His knowledge was broad and deep and a number of postdocs were offered support because of the persuasive manner that Henry championed their proposal. In recent years I would often see Henry on my walk from the parking lot to my lab. He always had his camera and had a story to tell about some aspect of the campus or the local animals. I will miss him.
Henry’s commitment to science education, teachers and students endures. I am honored and humbled to have learned with him. May the stories of his LIWA live on. I will miss his passion, his mischief (at times) and his sense of humor. A unique treasure for the University and the larger education community.
Posted on the wooden door of Henry Horn’s office on the third floor of Guyot Hall is a small note that reads, “If door is open, I am here or near, and you are very welcome!”
I will treasure the memories of the times I made the pilgrimage to Henry’s office on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon. Almost invariably, the door was open. Drifting out of the room came classical music. Inside, Henry could be found working intently on any number of projects. (Lately, it was his newest manuscript on the social behavior of butterflies.) Upon knocking and sticking my head through the doorway, Henry would greet me warmly and wrap up whatever task had occupied him just a moment before.
There is a comfortable armchair in Henry’s office that faces directly toward his desk. Each time I visited, the chair was piled high with any number of objects, including binoculars, cameras, field guides and knapsacks. Henry would shovel the gear off the chair and invite me to sit. And then, for whatever it was that I had come to say or ask, even if it wasn’t much of anything, Henry would offer his undivided attention.
Henry was so very welcoming, and so generous with his attentiveness. For that, and much more, I will never forget him.
He was also hilarious and brilliant. A wonderful storyteller. And he whittled. On the shelves of his office sat numerous wooden animals he had carved, with intriguing red eyes. If you asked him a question about any of them, he would show you an instructive display he had created that demonstrated how to start whittling your own woodland creatures at home.
I once discussed with Henry a certain phenomenon: He might be walking through the woods with a group of ten people, and all ten would walk right past something small but fascinating alongside the trail. Perhaps an interesting fungus. Or a snake. Or a wildflower. Henry would see it and alert the group, and start telling his stories. Soon enough someone would comment on Henry’s supernatural ability to spot wondrous things in nature.
Of course, as Henry said, there wasn’t a bit of magic in any of it. No extraordinary skill or ability. He simply paid close attention to the life around him. Day in and day out, for decades.
That’s a lesson I will carry with me. Thank you Henry.
Henry was an important member of the peer review committee of the Life Sciences Research Foundation for at least 20 years. He provided for us expertise in scientific areas that we were completely lacking. He also came to several of our annual meetings and led the fellows on nature hikes. His extraordinary knowledge made these unique experiences.
Tormod Burkey said it best — “dammit Henry – unacceptable.”
I first met Henry in the spring of 1980, when I interviewed for admission as a doctoral student in the then- Department of Biology. His warmth and brilliance were immediately apparent. Throughout my time as a graduate student, he was both a mentor and a friend. No one cared more about the graduate students than Henry, and he made all of us better scientists and better human beings. His mentorship — and our friendship — continued during my years away from Princeton and when I returned as a faculty member in the fall of 2001. I will miss his kindness, his wisdom, and his puckish sense of humor. Thank you for nearly 40 years of friendship, Henry; I wish we had many more.
Henry, you left the world too soon. But the fact that you departed on Pi Day is beautiful and fitting, because your curiosity was infinite. I always marveled at how you could attend a lecture on any topic and always ask a great question at the end. The breadth of your knowledge amazed me. And your creativity knew no bounds either. You transformed electronic waste into art. You translated R.A. Fisher’s Genetical Theory of Natural Selection into rhymed couplets. You not only knew how to play a saw, you could explain the physics behind it. It was a delight to hear you sing in the Chapel Choir, or slip into a John Wayne drawl. Your joy of life seemed limitless, and that made you a joy to talk to. I will always remember your tour of the Institute Woods and the love and wonder of Nature you conveyed. As my committee chair, you helped shepherd me through the trials of grad school with steady reason and ready humor, and I know countless other students benefited from your comfort and wisdom. It was a privilege to have known you, and I will be forever grateful that I did.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet both Henry and Betty Horn, spend time with them on early Saturday morning walks, and learn about the ecology of our area. There were always interesting plants and animals to find along the way. Learning about the geology of the Princeton Ridge. Seeing ephemeral spring flowers growing next to non-natives. Listening to the sounds of frogs at the Watershed Institute, and woodpeckers flying between the trees. Getting sidetracked about finding wildflowers and exploring the wild mushroom and fungi instead at Bowman’s Hill, and then shuffling back to catch up with the rest of the group. I was at the Watershed on Saturday, walking alone, and thinking about these times of learning with the Horns. Thank you for inspiring me.
Although Prof. Horn and I never met in person we had a very pleasant and interesting email correspondence only a couple months ago regarding wood-specie identification of two art objects from the Princeton University Art Museum. Prof. Horn came to look at one of the objects and formulated his ideas (which turned out to be correct) and gave us very important information regarding the other object which made it possible for us to identify the wood.
We at the museum are very thankful for his time and input. We are very disappointed that this ‘newly found’ resource on campus is no longer with us as I personally was looking forward to interacting with Prof. Horn on a regular basis.
We wish strength to his family in these difficult times.
Henry had an unusual ability to engage people with genuine interest about a problem or topic. He did so with me with equal frequency as an undergrad, as staff, as a postdoc and as a colleague. There is no better way to make a person feel welcome in academia, and I thank him for that. The humor Henry brought to Eno Hall through J. Chester is a rarity and a treasure I will never forget.
In the acknowledgements section of my PhD defence, I drew Henry as a male satin bowerbird, as a tribute to his inventiveness, artistry and intelligence. However, unlike male bowerbirds, Henry is easily the most unassuming yet brilliant people I have ever known. He is also a great inspiration to those who are equally inspired by the art in science and nature as by the nature of art. I have never met another person who so genuinely enjoyed sharing his diverse passions with others, yet managed to make anyone feel as though each conversation with him was a comfortable, cosy chat between kindred spirits.
There are far too many memories to list, but I speak for many strays and aliens who benefitted from Henry and Betty’s hospitality on Thanksgivings at Princeton. That was when I had the pleasure of first encountering J. Chester’s gallery and the LiWA, short for Little Wooden Animals, which accompanied him and Betty to some spectacular places. I am also personally grateful to Henry for choosing my book prize when I graduated from EEB. Now that I can no longer pop in for a chat, every memento and memory of Henry will be all the more precious.
Henry was on my thesis committee in the early 80s, even though I was not a pinhead, the affectionate name the Ecology and Evolution faculty called the group’s graduate students. I also served as Henry’s teaching assistant in his amazing Patterns of Animal Behavior course. That course was a model for teaching critical thinking that I aspired to match–and never came close–for 30+ years in my own teaching. I learned to think, read and write in that course. Henry was also a supportive and generous mentor and committee member. I might not have made it without his support. Just thanks, Henry.
I Can’t ask Henry Anymore
Nor Chester Farnsworth, Thane of Stony ford.
That’s what it feels like to be an intellectual orphan.
But I continue to look at trees as he taught me, at my bird banding and research station on Featherbed Lane, in the Hopewell Sourlands.
Henry took me seriously though I was ‘only’ a Research Assistant, in entirely differed fields: plant hormone transport with Bill Jacobs, tobacco teratoma tumors with Fred Meins, and cellular slime mold chemotaxis with John Bonner. At the same time, I was doing avocational research on birds and habitat change. I audited his course on trees. He coached me on how to characterize a forest, and how to summarize forest data meaningfully.
The field station is now in its 42nd year with a history of many citizen scientists, and students trained in the skill of bird banding.
That’s what has come in my life of Henry’s egalitarian outlook and outreach beyond his department, and his human kindness and interest.
Speaking of Henry’s sense of humor: I also teach people how to prepare scientific study skins of birds killed by windows, etc. I prepare them with sticks extending through the body past the tail for easy pick-up. He called them ‘biological popsicles.’
I’m sorry I never connected with Henry the few times I returned to campus. I use the grading rubric he used in my upper level and graduate classes. To get an A in Henry’s class you had to teach him something new which was virtually impossible as an undergraduate or cause him to look at something in a new light which was possible but challenging. The short biweekly papers I wrote in his class did more to improve my writing than anything I’ve done. Forty two years after graduating I think of Henry every time I start a semester and often in between. I’ve never benefited from one course more than the one I took from Henry.
Hey fans (and family) of Henry Horn.
Perhaps he was fearful of the Shakespearian “Ides (15th) of March”? In any case, Henry was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Having had had the privilege of seeing his sample jars, collections, refrigerator magnets like no other, and many art works (now actually worth something, though they always were to me and others too). Not mention many discussions regarding non-linear dynamics and Markovian processes. I reckon all that can be said at this juncture is, to all reading this, try to carry on what this great person embodied.
That was difficult to write. This digs deep. Peace…
— JIM ROBINSON (haunted Princeton EEB at Eno Hall, 1992-1997)
P.S. Go Chester J. Farnsworth & Elizabeth Seaport, pay no mind to Tormod Turkey!
I am very sorry to hear of Dr. Horn’s passing. I stayed with he and is wife for a brief time at the institute when I had just landed in Princeton for a temporary appointment with Dan Rubenstein. This was back in the early 1980s and I was coming from South Dakota and largely oblivious to Dr. Horn’s accomplishments and stature in the academic and science community. The Horns were just very down-to-earth people and quite gracious to me a stranger. My condolences to Mrs. Horn and the family.
I went for a walk in the woods today and found myself thinking about Henry. It was fifty years ago this month that I first ventured into the Institute Woods with Henry. I was an undergraduate in his ecology class and Henry was still “Boy Wonder”, replete with white lab coat and Mickey Mouse ears. We were there to learn about age classes, sampling, transects, succession, all things trees. Henry’s enthusiasm for learning nature’s secrets was contagious and was I forever infected.
In the Population Biology group at the time (MacArthur, Horn, Leigh, Terborgh) the standard test was a one-page, in-class essay. Henry modified it a bit, so that you were allowed to write on the back, but with the admonition that if he got to the bottom of the front side and was no longer interested, he would not turn it over. His rubric to get an A was to teach him something he didn’t know. I got B’s.
When I was in graduate school at Yale, I was a teaching assistant for three semesters of field biology, two of mammalogy, and one of entomology. I tried to convey a mere fraction of what I had picked up from Henry to my students. I later returned to Princeton as a research assistant in the geology museum. I was trying to apply some of the principles of population biology to a series of fossil mammal communities that I was studying. Henry and I would often have discussions about my research while standing in one doorway or another in either Eno or Guyot. He was always generous with his time and insightful with his comments. After a few years, Princeton decided to abandon paleontology, and they gave their collections to the Smithsonian and to Yale. They gave me a pink slip.
I embarked on a new career and Henry and I parted ways. Imagine my surprise when, twenty-five years later, I received an invitation to Henry’s retirement party. Of course I went, and of course Henry was the center of attention, but he still took the time to come over to find out what I was up to and reminisce about those doorway chats of long ago. We continued to see each other after that, either at reunions or for lunch now and again. He was a remarkable man, in his knowledge, his kindness/ and his ability to inspire others. He is missed.
Now as I walk through forest and field, with children and grandchildren in tow, we stop to watch and wonder and listen to all things wild and wooly, all things great and small, and a little piece of Henry travels through me to them, and he lives on.