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.
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.”
|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.