MUSEUM CAMPUS — Bill Stanley, the head of the Field Museum's extensive mammal collection, has died while on an African expedition, the Downtown museum said Tuesday.
Stanley, an award-winning zoologist, had worked at the Field since 1989. The museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, issued a statement on Facebook to memorialize the noted mammalogist.
"Bill’s accomplishments are almost too many to list — in his research on Africa’s mammals, he led biological surveys and safari trips every year, he has described numerous species and published countless papers, and he has two species of animal — a mouse and a frog — named after him," the statement reads. "But beyond his academic accomplishments, we feel his loss most deeply as a friend."
Stanley was 58 years old. He suffered a heart attack while working in the field, said Larry Heaney, the Field's curator of mammals and a colleague of Stanley's for 26 years.
"Bill died doing what he loved to do," Heaney said. "There's hardly anything in the building Bill wasn't involved with. ... Usually there's just a few people in any given institution who everybody knows and everybody respects. Bill was one of those."
A Hyde Park resident, Stanley oversaw the more than 200,000 mammals in the Field's collection, most of them available for other scientists to research. The son of a banker and teacher, he was born in Beirut and also lived in Kenya. He graduated from high school in Nairobi before returning to America for college. He received numerous grants and awards during his career, according to his staff page.
In a 2013 interview with DNAinfo, Stanley said he would never walk away from the work he loved, calling himself "incredibly lucky" to pursue his passions.
"I'm not gonna retire," Stanley said. "I'm going to do this until the day I die."
The trip to Ethiopia was the Field's first, Heaney said. There, Stanley was tasked with identifying rare species where up until recently there "hadn't been a lot of opportunities" for Americans to work, he said.
When Stanley was 11, he captured a butterfly he thought was a new species, and his mother took him to the National Museum of Kenya, where she was a volunteer. There, Stanley met researcher researcher Mike Clifton, who walked him into a "huge, giant room with cases stacked three high."
When Clifton opened one case, it was filled with hundreds of the same butterfly Stanley had found.
"To this day, I can close my eyes, and I can feel the switch turned on," Stanley said. "I knew then this is what I wanted to do. I was so hooked into it."
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