Amherst Magazine
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TOBY GAUNT (1936-2006)

Toby Gaunt was born with a bad heart. It troubled and threatened him one way or another all his life, and it ultimately cut a full and productive life short.

Toby’s great passion was birds. He revived (or was it founded?) the Amherst Bird Watchers Club, majored in biology and then earned his PhD from Kansas in 1963.

Following positions at Middlebury and SUNY Buffalo, he joined Ohio State’s department of zoology in 1969, becoming a full professor in 1986. He especially enjoyed teaching undergraduates, but retired early in 1995, somewhat discouraged by what he called the increasing industrialization of education at OSU. Even after 10 years of retirement, past students who were now medical doctors stopped by to check on his progress duringtwo, long months of hospitalization in 2006. He touched many students.

Toby’s scientific specialty was birds’ vocal mechanisms and functional anatomy. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Ornithologists Union and a member (president in 1981) of the Wilson Ornithological Society. Toby co-edited with Dr. Carl Gans a multiple-volume series, “The Biology of the Reptilia.” His colleague Kraeg Adler of Cornell is completing the last volume, and the book is dedicated to Toby. He was also committed to professional service beyond teaching and research.

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Toby’s wife, Sandy, whom he married in 1963, was an Ohio State colleague and fellow birder. Classmate Bruce Warren recalls that in retirement Toby and Sandy continued their enthusiasm for bird watching and listening. “Their skill was impressive – even intimidating.”

Bruce remembers, “Toby liked to cook, and he liked to eat and drink well. Ever since boyhood he was keen on reading science fiction. He liked to fish, so he was delighted that Sandy gave him as his Christmas present in 2004 a stay at The Wilds, a nationally famous bass-fishing camp in Ohio. And he enjoyed the artistry and meticulousness of tying his own flies (which, Sandy says, hooked ‘many a trout and bass’).”

Sandy remembers that the Columbus Symphony was “one of Toby's (and my) joys.” At Christmas 2005, before his surgery, he was well enough to make it to an afternoon rehearsal, though he had become too weak to do a full evening concert. “The first violinist waved to us in the balcony. After Toby's death, a small quartet from the symphony performed a Sunday concert that was dedicated to him. He would have been pleased, and I continue to contribute to the endowment in his name.”

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Toby and Sandy, 2004

Sandy retired in 2002 as Curator of The Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology. “I still contribute several days a week at the lab, mostly with digitizing recordings that are in danger of loss due to the age of the tapes. I continue to be an avid bird watcher and professional ornithologist.”

In 2006 Sandy attended the North American Ornithological Congress in Veracruz, and in 2007 went to the Galapagos. “I have revived a prior interest in photography, and I continue to garden and develop.”

Toby's third major cardiac surgery in early 2006 was successful in itself, but complications from the hospital stay hit him hard. He suffered a massive staphylococcus infection, which his diabetes masked until it was too late to defeat. Before that last surgery, Sandy recalls, “Toby told his surgeon that he hoped to live to see two things: to exceed the age of his dad and to make his 50th Amherst class reunion. Unfortunately he did not make those anniversaries, but he did leave a legacy to Amherst which I hope helps the Class of ‘58 meet its contribution goal for the reunion.”

Abbot Stott Gaunt died March 30, 2006.

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Abbot Stott Gaunt '58

Toby Gaunt was born with a bad heart, and it troubled and threatened him in one way or another all his life. He had his third major cardiac surgery this past January; that was successful in itself, but complications from the hospital stay hit him hard. He suffered a massive staphylococcus infection, which his diabetes masked until it was too late to defeat it, and he died on March 30, 2006.

Toby was born on July 4, 1936, and he attended Methuen (MA) High School and Phillips Academy (Andover). At Amherst he majored in biology, and was a member of Kappa Theta and Sigma Xi. He was preceded at Amherst by his father ('31) and two great-uncles ('06, '14). He earned his Ph.D. degree at the University of Kansas in 1963. One of his students there was Sandra (Sandy) L. Lovett (Kansas, '64); they married in 1963. After some time at Middlebury College and SUNY (Buffalo), he joined the Department of Zoology at Ohio State University in Columbus in 1969, and advanced to Professor of Zoology in 1986. He liked working with students, especially teaching undergraduates, but he took early retirement in 1995, somewhat discouraged by what he called the increasing industrialization of education at Ohio State.

His scientific specialty was birds: their vocal mechanisms and functional anatomy. He collaborated on research projects with Sandy, also on the staff at Ohio State. He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Ornithologists' Union, a member (president in 1981) of the Wilson Ornithological Society, and an active member of several other professional organizations. He was committed to professional service beyond teaching and research.

In retirement he continued his enthusiasm for bird watching (and listening). I had the pleasure of accompanying him and Sandy on several early-morning bird-walks during our class reunions; their skill was impressive (even intimidating). He liked to cook, and he liked to eat and drink well. Ever since boyhood he was keen on reading science fiction. He liked to fish, so he was delighted that Sandy gave him as his Christmas present in 2004 a stay at The Wilds, a nationally famous bass-fishing camp in Ohio. And he enjoyed the artistry and meticulousness of tieing his own flies (which, Sandy says, hooked "many a trout and bass" for him). In his Fortieth Reunion Letter he was eagerly anticipating a sailing trip with Sandy and some friends through the Society Islands to Bora-Bora; they achieved it in 1998.

Toby is survived by Sandy, by his late sister's two children and two grandchildren, and by lots of friends. He had been looking forward to our Fiftieth Reunion.

Bruce Warren '58

 

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