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Tom Waters, founding member, 1926-2012

Published On: 12/17/2012

Tom Waters, founding member and songwriter, 1926-2012

Many of us lost a dear friend when Tom Waters died recently, and our science lost a giant. Tom was one of the founding members of the Society for Freshwater Science (when it was the Midwest Benthological Society), served as our president in 1974-75 and also received our Award of Excellence in 1989. Tom received numerous awards in his career including the Award of Excellence from the American Fisheries Society (AFS) in 1999. He was a fellow in the American Institute of Fisheries Research Biologists and a member of the Ecological Society of America. Tom is world renown for his pioneering research in stream ecology, particularly secondary production rates and the phenomenon of invertebrate drift. His pioneering documentation of invertebrate drift, published in Ecology (1962), Diurnal Periodicity in the Drift of Stream Invertebrates, set the stage for Dr. Waters and numerous other investigators to study invertebrate drift and its importance to the feeding ecology and production rates of stream fishes. That paper was named as a Citation Classic by Current Contents in 1984, indicating its significance as one of the most frequently cited papers in ecological sciences. His paper in Advances in Ecological Research (1977), Secondary Production in Inland Waters, synthesized from his own research and that of others, was a significant advance in our understanding of secondary production rates in inland waters and the importance of those rates to fish production and management. That paper was also named as a Citation Classic in 1989. More recently, Tom promoted the linkage of benthic science with fisheries management, a linkage that will garner more interest as we move toward ecosystem based management. Over the years, he has served as a keynote speaker and organizer for numerous scientific and non-scientific meetings, conferences, and symposia and has had over 50 publications in scientific journals. He supervised 16 MS and 10 PhD graduates during his 35-year career as Professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at the University of Minnesota.

Tom loved writing and authored six books including The Streams and Rivers of Minnesota (1977), The Superior North Shore (1987) and an AFS monograph ‘Sediment in streams: sources biological effects and control (1995)’. Tom was one of those rare scientists whose research leads to a fundamental change in the way other scientists think about the field in which they work and whose contributions, though fundamental in nature, lead to practical advances in the related applied fields. Tom was a poet and song-writer as well. Many late night jam sessions at earlier ‘NABS’ meetings were hosted by Tom and Don Webb (who also passed this year) and one song always requested by all was the ‘Benthic Waltz’.

During his last year, in assisted living, Tom perked up for visitors from his teaching days, his daughter said. "He would start talking about these things as if it was yesterday.” In one of the six books that he authored, "The Rivers of Minnesota," Tom wrote about the old adage to take a kid fishing. "Standing in a rushing riffle, mention the need for that clear water," he wrote. "Turn over a stone or two to discover some mayfly nymphs. Think of him or her not just as a kid going fishing, but also as a future scientist, or a senator, or maybe even a judge hearing a water pollution lawsuit." To quote a line from the Benthic Waltz: “Old benthologists never die, They just drift away. “ His legacy will live on through his writings and those he inspired.

Obituary written by Dave Penrose and Ray Newman.

“Benthic Waltz,”
Thomas F. Waters 1986

Oh, come let's dance to the Benthic Waltz,
Our Society has no peer or faults.
We'll swing and we'll sway 'til the dawn of day
To the beautiful Benthic Waltz.

We'll dance to the beat of a stonefly drum
Whirrrl away to con-tin-u-um
We'll never get caught by Simulium.
While dancing the Benthic Waltz.

Now, Ralph went out to his favorite lake
Some oligochaete samples he would take
He tied a line to his Ekman dredge
And lowered it over the side.

In the Boy Scouts they taught him to tie a knot
But the truth of the matter is he forgot
And the line that was tied to his Ekman dredge
Disappeared over the side.

Now, Jack went out to his favorite stream
To found a new theory, his lifelong dream.
He slipped in a riffle, and we all heard him say,
"Eureka! By Gosh!", as he spiralled away.

Now, Bruce went down to the bottom to see
The catchnets of some Hydropsychidae.
Well, he got caught, as he later explained,
And a bit of coarse particle he became.

Now, Rich went out with his date to see
If they could find a nice shady tree
"Oh no!", she said, "I would rather be
Dancing the Benthic Waltz!"

Now, Ken tells a tale never heard in school:
Don't fall in the detritus pool
Or you'll get shredded, and filtered, and then
As a little brown pellet get eaten again.

Now, I wrote in for a research grant,
But the Foundation said that they're sorry, they can't.
Oh, I'll never get rich on a federal grant
So let's do the Benthic Waltz.

To Rosemary I sent a manuscript
But she sent it back with a rejection slip
Said she, "It's best you restrict yourself
To writing the Benthic Waltz".

Now, Don went out for his beetles and such
Tooling along in his pick-up truck.
Oh, he'll be back when his grant is up
Dancing the Benthic Waltz.

Now, I fell in my crick and I started to sink
A happier ending than you might think
For old benthologists never die
They just drift away.

Who is the man who wrote this song
And who always plays as we sing along?
His name fits his work to a "T", you see –
Tom Waters, Tom Waters is he.

“Ralph Brinkhurst, Jack Webster, Bruce Wallace, Rich Merritt, Ken Cummins, Rosemary Mackay, Don Webb.”

Published on pages 123-124 in Mackay, R.J. 2005. Beneath the surface: A history
of the North American Benthological Society 1953-2003. Journal of the North
American Benthological Society, Lawrence, KS.

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