WILLIAM LOUIS STERN

Photo of Bill Stern

Bill was born on September 10, 1926, in Paterson, New Jersey, where he spent his childhood. He graduated in 1944 from the agricultural curriculum at Paterson Central High School and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he saw duty on Guam. Following his discharge in 1946, he enrolled in what was called the National Farm School and Junior College, now Delaware Valley College. After one year he enrolled in Rutgers University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in botany in 1950. He was accepted as a graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Illinois in September, 1950, and received the master’s degree in 1951 and the PhD degree in 1953, both in botany. His first professional position was as instructor in the School of Forestry, Yale University. While there he conducted studies in wood anatomy as related to the phylogeny of angiosperms, and taught courses in wood anatomy and identification, tropical forestry, and plant microtechnique. He also edited the journal Tropical Woods and curated what was then the world's largest collection of wood.

In 1960, he joined the Smithsonian Institution as curator in the new Division of Wood Anatomy, later changed to Plant Anatomy. In 1963, he took a leave of absence to join the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and spent the year with his family at the Forest Products Research Institute near Los Baños in the Philippines. Upon returning from the Philippines he became acting chairman, then chairman of the Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution. While at the Smithsonian he was curator of the wood collection and continued his research on the phylogeny of angiosperms using information from vegetative plant anatomy. In 1967, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland as professor. There he coordinated the general botany program and taught plant anatomy, plant microtechnique, and tropical forestry. He continued his studies of plant anatomy and phylogeny. From 1978 to 1979, he served in Washington as program chairman for systematic biology at the National Science Foundation. In 1979, he joined the faculty of the University of Florida as chairman of the Department of Botany and professor. He gave up the chairmanship in 1985 and returned to teaching and research. He changed his research focus in Florida and began a continuing series of studies on the vegetative anatomy and relationships among members of the orchid family. During his career Bill has undertaken considerable field work collecting wood specimens with herbarium vouchers and orchids and for this purpose has visited Panama, Philippines, Dominica, the western United States, Jamaica, and the Florida Keys. Bill edited Plant Science Bulletin, the monograph series of the Torrey Botanical Club, and was founding editor of Biotropica.

He was married to the late Flory Stern, who died February 6, 1999. They had two children: Paul Elihu, an attorney, and Susan Myra, a horticulturist. He has five grandchildren: four boys and one girl. Bill lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he raises orchids, some for research and some for pleasure. Bill is a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and other biological organizations.

He was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1963.