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Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Carl Hansen
© Smithsonian Institution
Rich Vari at the National Museum of Natural History, 2004. Photo by Sandra J. Raredon. Copyright Smithsonian Institution

Richard Vari, Curator of Fishes in the Division of Fishes, Department of Vertebrate Zoology for 36 years died on January 15, 2016, from cancer. Rich was born in Newburgh, NY, on August 24, 1949 and was educated in New York City: he received his bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1971 and a PhD from the joint graduate training program between the City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History in 1977.

Rich was a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Fishes in 1978 and joined the curatorial staff in 1980. Rich was a world-renowned expert on the systematics of tropical freshwater fishes, particularly the ostariophysan fishes (catfishes, minnows and their relatives) of South America and Africa. He was a frequent visitor to South America, particularly Brazil, where he developed many longstanding collaborations and friendships. Rich was a dedicated researcher and educator; he mentored over 40 fellows during his tenure at the National Museum of Natural History.

Rich received the Robert H. Gibbs Jr Memorial Award in 2009 for an Outstanding Body of Published Work in Systematic Ichthyology from the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH). In addition to his research accomplishments, Rich held several administrative posts including two terms as the Chair of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology and Interim Associate Director of Science at the NMNH.

Rich is survived by his wife, Ann, and their two children, Thomas and Ellen, all of Virginia. Donations in his memory may be made to The Episcopal Center for Children, Washington, DC or the Fairfax (VA) Library Association.

A celebration of the life of Richard Vari was held in the Baird Auditorium on January 29, 2016. Among other remembrances, a symposium in his honor is being planned by his former students and colleagues and a detailed obituary is being written for the ASIH journal Copeia.

Rich recorded a video interview for the Skin & Bones app at the NMNH which was played at the memorial. In it he mentions another of his passions, cooking.

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