Obituary: Richard W. Coles, former director of Tyson Research Center, 83

Richard W. (Dick) Coles, who served as the inaugural director of Washington University in St. Louis’ Tyson Research Center and also as an adjunct professor of biology for more than 25 years, died Dec. 10, 2022, in Longmont, Colo. He was 83. A celebration of life for Coles is planned for 1 p.m. April 29 at Tyson Research Center in Eureka, Mo.

Dick Coles

Coles grew up in Swarthmore, Penn., and attended Swarthmore College, graduating with honors with a zoology degree and botany minor in 1961. He earned a PhD at Harvard University, studying thermoregulation in beavers under Charles P. Lyman in 1966. From 1966 to 1970, Coles was a biology professor at Claremont College.

Coles became the first director of Washington University’s environmental field station, Tyson Research Center, in 1970. The university had acquired the property in 1963. The 2,000-acre site had been used by the federal government for storing munitions and explosives during World War II and for other military purposes during the Korean War.

Coles helped establish Tyson as a resource for local scientists who wanted to study plants, animals and natural habitats that were relatively undisturbed, opening up the field station to support a host of projects from around St. Louis. He also conducted his own field research on birds, bats and forest management at Tyson. The Endangered Wolf Center and the World Bird Sanctuary both found homes at the site. (The bird sanctuary has since moved).

With government funding, Coles also opened up Tyson to school field trips. For many years, busloads of K-12 students from all over St. Louis came to Tyson to experience the outdoors.

Coles ultimately left Tyson in 1995 and taught at Webster University until 2004. He continued to participate in many local and national conservation and nature societies. Throughout his career and retirement, Coles led numerous research and ecotourism field trips in North America as well as Venezuela, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Galapagos and the Peruvian Amazon. An active birder, Coles often had one of the highest annual bird counts in the St. Louis area.

Coles was preceded in death by his son, Christopher Sargent Coles; and sister Judy Coles. He is survived by his wife, Mary Coles; sisters Mary Logan Faulkner and Barbara Coles; daughter Deborah (Gerald) Ryan; and three grandchildren.

Register to attend the celebration of life (in person or by Zoom).

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