Cover photo for George W. Gilchrist's Obituary
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George W. Gilchrist

Dr. George W. Gilchrist of Alexandria, Virginia passed away peacefully after a short but painful fight with cancer on Thursday, February 6 at Capital Caring Hospice in Arlington. He is survived by his wife of 38 years, Katy Gilchrist, son David Gilchrist and David’s fiancé, Brittany Moore, both from St. Paul, MN.

George was born in Roseburg, Oregon. His family settled in Phoenix, Arizona where he lived until his mid 20’s. He then met Katy, a transplant from from England to Phoenix. After they married in 1981, she encouraged him at 27 to pursue a university degree. He earned a Bachelor of Science at Arizona State University, graduating Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. After a brief dalliance with becoming a fiction writer, he took a biology course on sexual selection and never looked back. Along with taking classes, he enjoyed studying butterflies, spending time in the lab, and conducting experiments in the field.

Katy and George next moved across the country to Providence, RI where he completed his Master of Science degree at Brown University. His son David was born in Providence. The next cross-country move was to Seattle, where George embarked on a PhD at the University of Washington; and he conducted pioneering theoretical and experimental studies on the evolution of thermal sensitivity (1993). He remained in Seattle to complete a postdoc on experimental evolution of thermal sensitivity in the fruit fly, Drosophila. George extended his work on the evolutionary genetics of drosophila while in faculty positions at Clarkson University (4 years) and the College of William and Mary (7 years), mentoring and nurturing many students along the way. In 2009 George and Katy moved to the DC region where George took a position as program director in Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation (NSF). His impact on science and on young scientists was exceptional and long-term.

As a program officer in the Evolutionary Processes cluster, George played an important role in establishing the Dimensions of Biodiversity program with funding partners in Brazil, China and South Africa, as well as in managing the BEACON Science and Technology Center in East Lansing, MI. George also made valuable contributions to the NSF Academy where he helped revamp Merit Review Basics classes, the Program Management Seminar, and the Merit Review Reboot camp. George was a strong supporter of outreach and for ten years served as liaison between the Education and Outreach Committees of two major scientific societies, the American Society of Naturalists and the Society for the Study of Evolution.

Over the years, George, Katy and David traveled numerous times to England and Europe and enjoyed visiting with friends made around the country. With Katy, George was generous in entertaining visiting colleagues, students and friends. He loved cooking and was an outstanding chef, kept a wonderful wine cellar, and prepared delicious cocktails. He also loved opera and a wide variety of music, attending many concerts in the area. The traditional Robert Burns parties he organized — featuring haggis, single malt scotch and poetry readings — were the stuff of legend.

His early loss at 65 has hit his family and friends around the world hard, but as they grieve, they strive to remember his best days and the deep effect he had on so many. The family will have life celebration for George by invitation only at a later date. To honor George, donations may be given to the George W. Gilchrist Student Support fund of the American Society of Naturalists.

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