S. Dillon Ripley

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Summary

  • The author of this Biographical Memoir lauds the personal attributes and public accomplishments of his mentor, S. Dillon Ripley, the eighth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Written by one of Ripley's assistant secretaries, the memoir reviews Ripley's family background and cites influences experienced during his youth, such as a trek with his mother to India and Tibet when he was 13 years old. Early interest in ornithology developed into decades-long research with Salim Ali to produce the 10-volume "Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan." Ripley graduated from Yale University and received a Ph.D. from Harvard; as a graduate student he worked in the bird division of both the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.
  • After World War II service in the OSS in Southeast Asia, Ripley joined the Yale biology faculty, and in 1960 was appointed director of the university's Peabody Museum of Natural History. His tenure there was marked by several innovations, such as organizing an associates group of volunteers and financial supporters. In 1964, he agreed to take on the position of Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, thus beginning what is known as "the golden years of the Smithsonian." Over the course of the next twenty years, S. Dillon Ripley led the Smithsonian through a period of tremendous growth and influence, while always strongly protecting the independence of the Institution. Ripley's accomplishments were known nationally and world-wide, and he was given many honorary degrees and awards, including the President's Medal of Freedom in 1985.
  • He had boundless curiosity, paid special attention to detail, but since he viewed his role as conceiving imaginative plans and ideas, had a management style strongly based on delegating authority. Ripley insisted on loyalty and expected quality up and down the hierarchy. His ability as a prodigious fund raiser was evidenced by the $37.5 million he raised to match a Congressional appropriation to build two new underground museums beneath the gardens south of the Castle; adjoining conference and exhibit space constitute the Ripley Center. The author describes Ripley as an individual with both class and stature, and comments that Ripley's standards were high, but all who worked for him, as well as millions of Smithsonian Institution visitors, benefited from the accomplishments of an extraordinary man.

Subject

  • Ripley, Sidney Dillon 1913-2001
  • Ali, Sálim 1896-1987
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Peabody Museum of Natural History
  • S. Dillon Ripley International Center
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)

Category

Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography

Notes

Author is Senior Scientist Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution.

Contained within

Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 147, Number 3 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu

Date

September 2003

Topic

  • Museum finance
  • Animals
  • Awards
  • Smithsonian influence
  • Secretaries
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Birds
  • Museums
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Management
  • Management--Museums
  • Ornithology
  • Biography

Place

South Asia

Physical description

Number of pages: 6 Page numbers: 297-302

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