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Photograph of Thomas E. Lovejoy III/Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 02-096, Box 6, Folder: Contact Sheets: Chancellor/Lovejoy
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 02-096, Box 6, Folder: Contact Sheets: Chancellor/Lovejoy

Oral history interview with Thomas E. Lovejoy III

  • 2021-Jul-07
  • 2021-Jul-30

Oral history interview with Thomas E. Lovejoy III

  • 2021-Jul-07
  • 2021-Jul-30

Thomas E. Lovejoy III was born in New York City, New York, in 1941. An only child, Lovejoy spent a year-and-a-half on the eastern shore of Maryland out in nature as a young child. His father ran a life insurance company, and his life revolved around that company. When Lovejoy was twelve years old, he first saw a picture of a maloca in the Amazon, which he remembered for the rest of his life. His parents decided it would be good for him to go away for high school, and he attended Millbrook School, about a hundred miles north of New York City. There Lovejoy worked at the zoo to fulfill the community service requirement. His freshman biology teacher, Frank Trevor, inspired Lovejoy’s lifelong interest in biology. He spent his free time exploring the six hundred acres of beautiful countryside the school owned. When it came time to choose a college, Lovejoy selected Yale University, where his father had also attended. He quickly declared his major as biology and began taking as many science classes as he could. During his time at Yale, he took a year off to go on an expedition looking for prehistoric artifacts in Nubia near Aswan, Egypt. When he returned to Yale, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in biology upon graduation. Lovejoy decided to stay at Yale for graduate school because he had a Yale Carnegie teaching fellowship. He co-taught a class on ecology and a class on ornithology. During his Ph.D. program, his former freshman advisor, Phil Humphrey, encouraged Lovejoy to get funding to spend a summer in the Amazon with him banding birds.

That trip transformed Lovejoy’s life, as he would spend the rest of his life studying and visiting the Amazon. He even spent two years living in the Amazon from 1967 to 1969 working on research for his Ph.D. When he returned to the US, he learned more about computers to analyze his dataset and wrote his thesis, which he completed in 1971. Upon graduation, Lovejoy briefly worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before joining the World Wildlife Fund. At first, he mostly reviewed proposals for funding but soon moved into a role that promoted the WWF doing science itself, including through his habitat fragmentation project in Brazil. After a number of years at WWF, Lovejoy moved onto the Smithsonian, managing at first external affairs and later environmental topics. Around this time, he was also asked to serve on George H. W. Bush’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Lovejoy mentions PCAST’s trip to Camp David in detail and discusses fellow members of the group. In 1992, Lovejoy started working for the World Bank, specifically focused on Latin America and the Caribbean. When 9/11 occurred, he was in Australia giving a talk, and it took him about a week to return home to the US. After a brief stint as president of the John Heinz Center, Lovejoy became a professor at George Mason University focused exclusively on graduate students. He concludes with his hopes that science should be viewed as central to every decision in presidential administrations.

This interview was conducted remotely via Zoom.

Property Value
  • 72 pages
  • 3h 24m 20s
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewers

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, a former president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (2012-2019), and served as co-editor for the Oral History Review from 2018-2023. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds several, in-depth oral history training workshops each year, consults on various oral history projects, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.

Kenneth M. Evans is a scholar in science and technology policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. He received his BS in physics from the University of Virginia and his MS and PhD in applied physics from Rice University. His research focuses on the history and organization of the US federal science advisory and policymaking system, with an emphasis on the role of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Institutional location

Oral history number 1120

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • August 22, 1941
  • New York City, New York, United States
  • December 25, 2021
  • McLean, Virginia, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1964 Yale College (1887- ) B.S. Biology
1971 Yale University Ph.D. Biology

Professional Experience

Yale University

  • 1963 Zoological Assistant, Prehistoric Exhibition to Nubia
  • 1964 to 1965 Yale Carnegie Teaching Fellow

Yahe Peabody Museum of Natural History

  • 1963 Zoological Assistant, Curating Nubian Collections

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

  • 1964 Collector of Birds in Kenya

Smithsonian Institution

  • 1970 Research Assistant, Belem Project, National Museum of Natural History
  • 1987 to 1994 Assistant Secretary for Environment and External Affairs
  • 1994 to 1999 Counselor to the Secretary on Biodiversity and Environmental Affairs
  • 1999 to 2001 Senior Scientist

Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

  • 1972 to 1973 Executive Assistant to the Science Director; Assistant to the Vice President for Resources and Planning

World Wildlife Fund (U.S.)

  • 1973 to 1978 Program Director
  • 1978 to 1985 Vice President for Science
  • 1985 to 1987 Executive Vice President

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)

  • 1990 to 1993 Member

United States Department of the Interior

  • 1993 Science Advisor to the Secretary

The Institute for Conservation Biology

  • 1997 to 1998 Director

World Bank

  • 1999 to 2002 Chief Biodiversity Advisor and Lead Specialist for Environment for Latin America and the Caribbean

United Nations Foundation

  • 2001 to 2002 Senior Advisor to the President
  • 2010 to 2021 Senior Advistor to the President

The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment

  • 2002 to 2008 President
  • 2008 to 2013 Biodiversity Chair

George Mason University

  • 2010 to 2021 University Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy


Year(s) Award
1978 Scientific Fellow, New York Zoological Society
1983 Ibero-American Award, given at Second Ibero-American Ornithological Congress, Xalapa, Vera Cruz, Mexico
1984 Fellow, Linnean Society of London
1984 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science History Institute
1985 Certificate of Merit, Significant Contribution Made to the Understanding of the Natural History of Amazonia, Goeldi Museum, Belem, Brazil
1987 Commander, Order of Merit of Mato Grosso, Brazil
1987 Medal, 50th Anniversary Brazilian National Parks
1987 to 1988 Primetime Emmy Awards, Honors Thomas E. Lovejoy for contributions to the Emmy Winning Program NATURE PBS chosen the Outstanding Informational Series
1988 Commander, Order of the Rio Branco, Brazil
1988 Award Winner, Best Social Inventions, ’88, for the proposed, Debt-for-Nature Swaps as a new and imaginative idea to improve quality of life, Institute for Social Inventions, London
1989 Fellow, American Ornithologists' Union
1989 Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science, Colorado State University
1990 Carr Medal, for Outstanding Contributions to Knowledge of Our Natural Heritage, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida
1990 Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science, Williams College
1991 Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Lynn University
1992 Fraces K. Hutchinson Medal, The Garden Club of America
1992 Global 500 Roll of Honor, United Nations Environment Program
1992 Fellow, The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce
1992 Rainforest Champion Award, The Rainforest Alliance
1993 Honorary Member of the National Park Service, Costa Rica
1993 Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal, Yale Graduate School Alumni Association
1996 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1998 Honorary Fellow, Association for Tropical Biology
1998 Dr. John Kimball Scott Award for International Health Leadership, National Association of Physicians for the Environment
1998 Gran Cruz, Ordem do Merito Cientifico (Order of Scientific Merit), Brazil
2000 Fellow, American Philosphical Society
2000 Edward Hopper Day Medal, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
2001 John & Alice Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, University of Southern California
2002 Distinguished Service Award, The National Association of Biology Teachers
2005 Conservation Science Award, The American Ornithologists’ Union
2005 Honorary Membership, World Innovation Foundation (WIF)
2008 Henry Shaw Medal, Missouri Botanical Garden
2009 Award in the Ecology and Conservation Biology Category, BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge
2011 Joao Pedro Cardoso Medal for Environment, Estado de Sao Paulo
2012 Outstanding Service Award, American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS)
2012 Blue Planet Prize, The Asahi Glass Foundation
2013 Leaders for a Living Planet Award, WWF-International
2014 International Conservation Award, Botanical Research Institute of Texas
2014 Commandeur dans l”Ordre des Palmes Académiques, Embassy of France
2014 Gold Medal, New York Botanical Garden
2015 Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service, Woodrow Wilson International Center
2017 Lifetime Achievement Award, National Council of Scientists for the Environment
2017 People and Planet Champion Award, The Rainforest Alliance
2018 Beck Family Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Research & Scholarship, George Mason University
2019 STEM Award, Science Museum of Virginia
2019 Medalha Rio Negro, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA)

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The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

2 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads