Sidney Dillon Ripley

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Sidney Dillon Ripley
Mary Livingston Ripley (d. 1996), S. Dillon Ripley (1913-2001), Salim Ali.jpg
Salim Ali, Mary Ripley, and S. Dillon Ripley on a collection trip in India
Born September 20, 1913
New York City, United States
Died March 12, 2001(2001-03-12) (aged 87)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Fields Ornithology
Alma mater Yale University, Columbia University, Harvard University
Known for Work on the birds of the Indian subcontinent
Notable awards Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1985[1]

Sidney Dillon Ripley II (September 20, 1913 – March 12, 2001) was an American ornithologist and wildlife conservationist. He served as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution for 20 years, from 1964 to 1984, leading the Institution through its period of greatest growth and expansion. For his leadership at the Smithsonian he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1985.[2]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Ripley was born in New York City and studied at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1936 he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) from Yale University. His great-grandfather, Sidney Dillon, was President of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Education[edit]

Ripley in front of the Smithsonian Quadrangle Complex
Ripley & unidentified children with "Uncle Beazley," the dinosaur at the opening of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, September 15, 1967

A visit to India at age 13, along with his sister, included a walking tour into Ladakh and western Tibet. This led to his lifelong interest in the birds of India.[2] He decided that birds were more interesting than law, and he began studying zoology at Columbia University. As a part of his study, Ripley participated in the Denison-Crockett Expedition to New Guinea in 1937-1938 and the Vanderbilt Expedition to Sumatra in 1939.[3] He later obtained a Ph.D. in zoology from Harvard University in 1943.

War service and academic work[edit]

During World War II, he served in the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, and was in charge of American intelligence services in Southeast Asia.[2] He trained many Indonesian spies, all of whom were killed during the war.[4] An article in the August 26, 1950 New Yorker said that Ripley reversed the usual pattern, where spies posed as ornithologists in order to gain access to sensitive areas, and instead used his position as an intelligence officer to go birding in restricted areas.[citation needed] The government of Thailand gave him a national award for his support of the Thai underground during the war.[4] While serving in the OSS he met his future wife Mary Livingston and her roommate Julia Child.[citation needed]

In 1947, Ripley entered Nepal pretending to be a close confidante of Jawaharlal Nehru and the Nepal government, eager to maintain diplomatic ties with its newly independent neighbour, allowed him to collect bird specimens. Nehru came to hear of this from an article in The New Yorker and was furious, leading to a difficult time for his collaborator and coauthor, Salim Ali. Salim Ali came to hear of Nehru's displeasure through Horace Alexander and the matter was forgiven after some effort. The OSS past however led to a growing suspicion that American scientists working in India were CIA agents. David Challinor, a former Smithsonian administrator, noted that there were many CIA agents in India, with some posing as scientists. He noted that the Smithsonian sent a scholar to India for anthropological research who unknown to them was interviewing Tibetan refugees from Chinese-occupied Tibet but went on to say that there was no evidence that Ripley worked for the CIA after he left the OSS in 1945.[4]

He joined the American Ornithologists' Union in 1938, became an Elective Member in 1942, and a fellow in 1951. After the war he taught at Yale and was a Fulbright fellow in 1950 and a Guggenheim fellow in 1954.[2] He became a full professor and director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. Ripley served for many years on the board of the World Wildlife Fund in the U.S., and was the third president of the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP, now BirdLife International).

Smithsonian Institution[edit]

He served as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1964 to 1984. He set out to reinvigorate and expand the Smithsonian, building new museums, including the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, now the Anacostia Community Museum, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Renwick Gallery, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of African Art, Enid A. Haupt Garden, the underground quadrangle complex known as the S. Dillon Ripley Center, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.[3]

In 1967, he helped found the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and in 1970, he helped found Smithsonian magazine.

In 1985 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States. He was awarded honorary degrees from 15 colleges and universities, including Brown, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Cambridge.

Ripley successfully defended the National Museum of Natural History against a lawsuit that objected to the Dynamics of Evolution exhibit.[3]

Legacy[edit]

Plaque dedicating the Mary Livingstone Ripley Garden

Ripley had intended to produce a definitive guide to the birds of South Asia, but became too ill to play an active part in its realisation. However, the eventual authors, his assistant, Pamela C. Rasmussen, and artist John C. Anderton, named the final two-volume guide as Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide in his honour.

The Smithsonian's underground complex on the National Mall, the S. Dillon Ripley Center, is named in his honor. A garden between the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Arts and Industries Building was dedicated in 1988 to his wife, Mary Livingston Ripley.

Selected writings[edit]

  • The Land and Wildlife of Tropical Asia (1964; Series: LIFE Nature Library)
  • Rails of the World: A Monograph of the Family Rallidae (1977)
  • Birds of Bhutan, with Salim Ali and Biswamoy Biswas
  • Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan, with Salim Ali (10 volumes)
  • The Sacred Grove: Essays on Museums (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1969)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Announcement of the Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, April 8, 1985". The American Presidency Project. University of California, Santa Barbara. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Molotsky, Irvin (13 March 2001). "S. Dillon Ripley Dies at 87; Led the Smithsonian Institution During Its Greatest Growth". The New York Times. p. 9. 
  3. ^ a b c S. Dillon Ripley, 1913-2001
  4. ^ a b c Lewis, Michael (2002). "Scientists or Spies? Ecology in a Climate of Cold War Suspicion". Economic and Political Weekly 37. 

External links[edit]