Royal D. Suttkus Memorial 1920-2009

Synopsis of Royal D. Suttkus’ professional career and the building of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection

Royal D. Suttkus, or “Sut” as he was affectionately known to family and colleagues, joined the Tulane faculty in 1950 and immediately began building the modern Tulane fish collection on a foundation of a small number of specimens left over from an early exhibit museum. By 1968 the fish collection, then numbering just over two million specimens, had outgrown its space in Richardson Memorial and Dinwiddie halls on the main Tulane campus. That year, the Tulane fish collection and other zoological research collections, were moved to the F. Edward Hebert Riverside Research Laboratories in Belle Chasse.

In 1976, Suttkus convinced the Tulane administration to formally recognize the zoological collections at Riverside as the Tulane University Museum of Natural History, and to appoint him as the Museum's first Director. Suttkus retired from the Tulane faculty in 1990, but continued to work in the fish collection and publish his research. By the year 2000, the Tulane fish collection grew to a size of just over seven million specimens, the largest collection of post-larval fishes in the world and a National Center of Ichthyology Research Resource. Remarkably, Suttkus himself had a hand in collecting over 5 million of the specimens in the collection. Over a career at Tulane spanning 55 years (15 years in retirement), Suttkus trained 24 students (10 M.S., 14 Ph.D.). He described or co-described 34 species as new to science (click here to view fish species described by R.D. Suttkus).

In October of 2000, family, friends, colleagues and former students of R.D. Suttkus gathered in New Orleans to pay tribute to Suttkus’ 50 years of service to Tulane University and his many contributions to the field of ichthyology. At the end of the celebration, the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tulane, read a proclamation from the President, Faculty, and Administrators of Tulane University, renaming the Tulane Fish Collection, the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection.

Suttkus continued collecting and depositing specimens in the fish collection until just before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, flooding and badly damaging his beachside home in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He lost nearly all of his possessions, including his field notes and most of his library. What little remains is now part of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection. Suttkus and wife Jeanne were displaced to the Atlanta metropolitan area. On January 5th, 2010, the ichthyological community received news that Royal D. Suttkus had passed away one week earlier (28 December 2009) surrounded by family in Decatur, Georgia, six months shy of his 90 birthday. To read more about Suttkus’ amazing life, please click here.

In 2011, Tulane University began divesting itself of its orphaned invertebrate, herpetology, ornithology, mammalogy and vertebrate paleontology research collections, donating the collections to the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The Tulane University Museum of Natural History has been transformed into the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute (TUBRI), comprising the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection and Tulane’s vibrant program in Biodiversity Informatics.

Please donate to the Royal D. Suttkus Memorial Fund