Date of this Version
2019 — Florida Entomologist — Volume 102, No. 3 660-664
It’s a great pleasure and privilege to reflect on the life and career of Dr. Willard Hall Whitcomb. I tend to agree with Norm Leppla’s assessment that “Dr. Willard Whitcomb, without a doubt, was the most colorful entomological character I have ever known.” I knew Will chiefly by scientific reputation before briefly meeting him in 1988 for the first time. My first significant interactions with Will came in 1994 while I was with the University of Georgia in Tifton, and we tossed ideas back and forth until his death in 2002. However, I never felt that I knew the man well, and after going through the exercise of preparing this presentation, I realize that I knew far less about him than I realized. And there are many, many questions about Will that I have not been able to answer, and which may be unanswerable since his wife Dot passed away in 2013, and they had no children to pass along stories and answers to fill gaps.
It appears to have been at about age 12 that Will encountered a National Geographic article that piqued his interest in insects. He purchased an entomology book and some simple collecting equipment, and was off to the entomological races (The Bates Student 62; 24 Oct 1934).
Will attended Somerville High School (Somerville, Massachusetts), graduating in 1933. Of no surprise to those who knew him in later years, Will was active in the school’s Webster Debating Society. His senior inscription in the “Radiator Yearbook” (Fig. 1) was a quote from Hamlet – “Stay! Speak, speak! I charge thee speak!”. Anyone who experienced Will’s presentations at meetings could compellingly argue that most of this quote was directed at Will himself, rather than at fleeing ghosts or an unseen audience. The only portion directed at his long- suffering audiences would be the first word: “Stay!”.
At about the time of his graduation, Will took a correspondence course in entomology at Harvard, further developing his interest and skill in the field.