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Goodbye Dr. Hotton!
Well, they say better late than never. I could shoot AOL for this latest foul
up but at least I have a good network of friends from the DMl and a
fortuitous last email that tipped me off!
Dr. Hotton was the epitome of the gentleman-scholar! I cannot hope to do him
enough justice with what I am about to say but at least it's from the heart!
One day in the summer of 1990 I believe, virtually out of the blue I stumbled
upon the now famous Muirkirk quarry where all these great Arundel fossils you
hear about come from. I tried to get permission from the quarry personnel to
"collect" there and was told "only if Nick Hotton at the Smithsonian says you
can." They gave me his home phone number whereby I proceeded to immediately
call him. From the instant he picked up the phone Dr. Hotton was genuinely
interested in furthering my ambitions so long as science and the public
interest were not compromised and we talked at great length. Mind you, we had
never met nor was I known to him. I was just another amateur looking for
fossils at that time. By the end of our conversation, we came to a
"gentleman's agreement" regarding the disposition of fossils of significance
going to the Smithsonian (one I have adhered to rigidly over the last
9+years!) and he promised to call the quarry to OK my entry. Well, by the
time it took me to walk back to the office from the outside pay phone, Dr.
Hotton (I never felt deserving enough to call him "Nick," even to this day)
had already vouched for me, true to his word, and I gained access to the
site. Similarly, during the aforementioned conversation and without any
condescension or feeling of coercion, I was impressed by Dr. Hotton's warm
personality and his message of "doing real science" instead of just
collecting fossils for my own sake struck home. He helped me to realize that
a golden opportunity sat before me! I too could make a contribution to
science here! This was a most fortuitous happenstance in that the person who
previously had been working there had a falling-out with the landowners and
was subsequently "un"-permitted to collect there. Thus a void was created
which I now slipped into.
Moreover, Dr. Hotton encouraged me to both keep in touch with him and make
contact with the Smithsonian which I also did.
Over the first couple of year with modest success, I called his office or
even at home to "check in" as agreed to, and was warmly received on every
occasion. Subsequent to this and with better finds coming my way, he even
arranged to visit with me at the site on two occasions (by this time his
health was already beginning to give). On both visits he shocked me by
walking in the long way into the site on a hot summer day (which is nearly a
mile!) rather than letting me meet him at the gate and driving up or by
meeting me at the back gate.
During these visits and phone calls "Nick" continually showed genuine
interest in my progress both in the field and academically (the latter of
which I had only then begun) and gave me valuable insight and advice in
pursuing a professional career in paleontology which was once my life's dream
and one that I had virtually given up on. He was never in a rush to be
somewhere else either. After discussing the finds and what they might
represent and identifying some of the then more curious (to me!) ones he also
put me in touch with many researchers near and far that I should contact thus
helping to get me "networked" within the VP community. It's amazing the
results you get when you can legitimately say "Nick Hotton suggested that I
In the last few years however I consciously decided not to call Dr. Hotton,
especially at his home. This was due to his failing health and to preserve
his privacy and also due to the fact that he was by now "semi-retired." Even
during this period however, when we did meet either during a conference in DC
or at the Smithsonian, he was still the same gentleman that I had first met a
few years before.
The icing on the cake for me at least was the discovery of the first known
Arundel triconodont mammal during 1998 just after Dinofest. In the process of
working with my coauthors in describing this new specimen we were afforded
the opportunity to further honor Dr. Hotton by naming the specific name after
him and thus Arundelconodon hottoni (n.gen. et sp) was agreed upon and made
publication last summer. I am truly grateful that he was able to see this, my
ultimate encomium to him before his passing.
Had it not been for Nick Hotton, a true gentleman and scholar in every sense
of the phrase, I would not be here today (metaphorically speaking of course)
and many of the Arundel's secrets would likely have passed on into bricks!
I shall forever be indebted to him for the opportunities afforded me and the
doors which are now open to me as a result.
He will be missed!
Goodbye Dr. Hotton!
Thomas R. Lipka