It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Dawn E. Peterson, who succumbed to brain cancer on June 29 at the age of 61. They were truly an extraordinary one-of-a-kind character – a bipolar, transgender, self-taught ostracodologist!
As a young person at the University of Minnesota, Don’s mental disability surfaced and abruptly ended their first semester. The disorder led them to spiral downward into the darkest realms of life before settling down as a sculptor and marrying. Their stepdaughter’s death, however, deeply affected their ability to cope, and they could no longer masquerade in the life they had been living.
A “new Dawn” settled in San Francisco and volunteered at the California Academy of Sciences, where they assisted retired USGS paleontologist Louie Marincovich for several years. Having befriended the late Professor Fred Swain back in Minnesota, Dawn focused on ostracodes as a serious hobby, eventually delving into the professional community for reprints, advice, and resources. Soon after I joined UCMP in 2002, German malacologist Sven Nielsen asked me to look at the forams in the matrix sampled from Neogene gastropods collected in Chile, whereupon he connected me with Dawn, who was studying the ostracodes. Dawn offered to assist me and the museum any way they could, which they faithfully did for the next seven years.
Dawn was impoverished, living a minimal existence in one of the old hotels in San Francisco turned into government-funded housing for the mentally ill. Their cramped one-room dwelling included a desk with microscope, and dozens of flats of fossils and crates of literature. Paleontology was their savior, as it gave meaning to their life and it kept them busy. Their affiliation with UCMP brought them the happiness and fulfillment that had long eluded them. Their ability to work at a respectable level soon became evident, and they were acknowledged as a UCMP Associate Researcher.
In addition to their work on the Chilean Neogene fauna (Finger et al., 2007, Palaios 22), Dawn was close to completing their studies on ostracodes from a nearby urban lagoon (Lake Merritt), Galapagos terraces, and the Frasassi caves (Italy). In the meanwhile, they coauthored a paper on Cretaceous gastropods from hydrocarbon-seep carbonates in California (Campbell et al., 2008, J. Paleont. 82). UCMP also capitalized on Dawn’s experience in preparing fossils (and sculpting) by having them skillfully work on the San Jose mammoth. Typical of their generosity of self, they arranged to have their body donated to the UCSF Medical School.
The UCMP community will miss Dawn greatly.