George West

May 13, 1931-Aug. 31, 2016

Former Homer resident, author, world renowned scientist and birder Dr. George Curtiss West, 84, died Aug. 31, 2016.

“My beloved husband passed away,” his wife, Ellen West, said.

He was born in Newton, Mass., on May 13, 1931. He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Ellen L. West. He attended Vermont Academy, Saxtons River, Vt., for high school and started his college years first at Middlebury, Vt., finishing with a bachelor of arts in biology in 1953. He received a master of science in zoology from University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana, in 1956 and a Ph.D. in physiological ecology in 1958. In 1959 he was awarded a postdoctoral research fellowship in the Division of Biosciences at University of Rhode Island, where he taught for three years.

The event that shaped his future was an invitation in 1963 to assist in the formation of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where he spent 21 years conducting research on cold adaptations of flora and fauna unique to the arctic tundra. He traveled extensively during his years in research, and published many key scientific reports.

In the late 1970s he moved into administration, first as Acting Director of the Institute of Arctic Biology, and Acting Dean of the College of Biological Sciences. In 1981 he was appointed Vice President of Academic Affairs, University of Alaska. In 1984 he was awarded Professor of Zoophysiology, Emeritus, and retired.

His retirement years were made up of many activities that were dear to his heart. He and his wife retired to Homer, Alaska, where in 1988 he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Homer Society of Natural History, which operates the Pratt Museum. For the next 10 years he wore many hats during his volunteer work at the Pratt Museum. In 1996, he and Ellen moved to Green Valley, Ariz.

His love of all natural surroundings, his years of avid bird watching, and his desire to volunteer in the community led him to the Friends of Madera Canyon. He served with the Friends from 1998 as a board member, and too many other functions to mention. At the same time he co-founded the Hummingbird Monitoring Network through 2009, having banded more than 14,000 hummingbirds captured and released in the surrounding area. He led a full life in research, published a number of books, and was widely recognized in the birding community as “THE George West.” His “A Birder’s Guide to Alaska” is known as one of the most comprehensive guides to birding in the state. His art work and a list of his publications are available on his web site,

He is survived by his wife, Ellen; his four sons, Mark Curtiss, George Randall, Andrew Pendl, and Frederick Worthing; his step-son Levi S. Nilsson; brother Worthing L. West (Winger); and five grandchildren, Curtiss Allen, Brian Michael, Evan Andrew, Kai Robben and Mia West. He focused throughout his life on the need to conserve and preserve our natural habitats. Toward this end, a donation in his name to Friends of Madera Canyon, P.O. Box 1203, Green Valley, AZ 85622, Scholarship Fund, would be greatly appreciated.


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