C. Howard C. Brunton



On July 20, 2008, the world lost an extraordinary paleontologist and a remarkable man. Dr. C. H. C. Brunton succumbed to septicemia following an illness of several months; he was 73 years old. It is often said that certain individuals serve as outstanding role models for others, largely through their selfless behavior and steadfast courage – Howard epitomized such an individual. I had worked with Howard for nearly 20 years, largely as Deputy Coordinating Authors of the revision of Part H, Brachiopoda, of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, with Sir Alwyn Williams as the Senior Coordinating Author. I came to realize early on what a truly extraordinary person Howard was, both professionally and personally, and feel very fortunate to have been touched by his great integrity and profound humanity.

Howard was born in Surrey, England, in 1935. He completed his Ph.D. degree in 1964 at The Queen’s University, Belfast, a student of Alwyn Williams, working on Carboniferous brachiopods from Northern Ireland. Upon graduation, his fine intellect and personable manner led to his immediate hiring as the Curator of brachiopods in the Palaeontology Department of the British Museum (Natural History) (now, The Natural History Museum) in London in 1964. An accomplished and highly experienced mountain climber, some may know that Howard was involved in a tragic mountaineering accident in the Lake District in 1972. He was dependent on a wheelchair for the rest of his life, often enduring considerable pain and discomfort, without a word of complaint. In spite of great hardship, Howard was unfailingly kind and respectful to all, patient and thoughtful, honest and fair, creative and hard working – always ready with his quick, warm smile, an encouraging word, a supportive nod. Anyone who knew him had enormous respect and great affection for Howard, and we all mourn his loss deeply. Howard was widely known among the world of brachiopodologists as the expert on productide (and other) brachiopods, producing over 80 scientific articles and papers in his lifetime. He was a consummate morphologist and systematist, deeply interested in the evolution and geological history of these fascinating organisms. Far from taking a stamp-collector’s attitude toward brachiopod systematics, Howard was a true scholar of morphology, committed to reaching a better understanding of why brachiopod shape was so variable and why it varied as it did. In particular, he believed strongly that the external shape of brachiopod shells, reflecting their ecology and mode of life, was just as significant in understanding brachiopods as whole organisms, as the various structures preserved on the interior of the valves, reflecting their internal anatomy. Howard was, early on, a leader in paleontology in seeking to interpret and make sense of brachiopod morphology, and not merely to describe and catalogue its variation. He thought deeply and wrote insightfully about shell structure, size, shape, and position of muscle scars, the nature of the cardinal process and hinge structures, the phylogenetic hierarchy within productides and other related brachiopods, homology of morphological structures among brachiopods, and produced many scholarly works that will live on after him, contributing significantly to the intellectual foundation of our field. He really was a giant in the field of brachiopod research, and he leaves a void that is impossible to fill.

Following completion of the brachiopod volumes of the Treatise, Howard was enjoying retirement, moving out of the bustle and grit of London to a quiet country home in Somerset. He was able to spend more time with his wonderful, ever-supportive wife Eileen, so both could more fully engage in pursuits of gardening, natural history and archaeology, music and traveling. He participated actively in community disability issues, and served as the Chairman of the South Somerset Disability Forum for the past four years. Eileen wrote the following about his last few months: “Howard was in hospital for a month from last mid-December. He was very frail when he came out, but fought back, as you might expect, to a semblance of his old self, taking up his former pursuits as much as possible, hoping that once his kidney stone was removed after our cruise his pain would be diminished. However this was not to be, and it worsened enormously during his last week. The doctors and nurses were wonderful in helping to keep him at home where he wanted to be until he was too weak to fight any more and septicaemia took him from us.

Sandra J. Carlson
Department of Geology, University of California, Davis (USA)