When Joseph R. Slevin, Curator of the Department of Herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences, died suddenly on February 15, 1957, he had been a member of the Academy's staff almost 53 years. An indefatigable worker and a man of rugged constitution, he was active to the end, and indeed scarcely knew a day's illness till his seventy-fifth year.
Mr. Slevin was born in San Francisco, September 13, 1881. His father was Thomas E. Slevin, a man of considerable learning, a member of the California Academy of Sciences, and an enthusiastic amateur ornithologist, who accumulated a private collection of about 3,000 birds. Joseph accordingly grew up in an environment conducive to an interest in science. As a boy he sometimes went with his father to visit George Davidson, a past president of the Academy, and one of the most distinguished scientists of his day.
Joseph was educated at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco and at St. Mary's College in Kansas. Then a thirst for travel and adventure took him to sea. By the time he was 23 he had served an enlistment in the U.S. Navy and had made some 20 voyages with the Oceanic Steamship Company.
Then came the opportunity to combine his love of the sea with his interest in science. The Academy was planning an expedition to the Galapagos Islands and needed a crew that could both sail a ship and do scientific work. Slevin was obviously qualified as a sailor, and his family background gave promise that he would make a good collector. He was given an intensive course in collecting reptiles by Dr. John Van Denburgh, then curator of Herpetology, and on June 28, 1905, he sailed for the Galapagos aboard the schooner Academy. His first employment at the Academy was in May, 1904, so he had a year of training with Van Denburgh before the expedition sailed.
The Galapagos expedition was away 17 months. While it was gone the Academy's museum was completely destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906. But when the expedition returned to San Francisco on November 29, 1906, the Academy-- which did not have much else-- had the world's foremost collection of Galapagos fauna and flora.
Mr. Slevin returned to the Academy as Van Denburgh's assistant, and in 1928 became curator of the department.
In addition to being an authority on the Galapagos Islands, Slevin collected extensively in Lower California, Australia, Central America, and elsewhere. His bibliography of scientific publications includes 58 titles, the last one published in September, 1956. At the time of his death he had two books in manuscript, one a history of exploration in the Galapagos, the other a popular handbook of reptiles. He also had in preparation a manuscript on lizards collected on his three expeditions to Australia, which will be completed and published.
Mr. Slevin served as a submarine officer in World War I, and tried hard to get back into the Navy in World War II, but was rejected on account of his age. Thereupon he did the next best thing, and worked almost literally day and night in the Academy's instrument shop on contract work for the U.S. Navy.
Mr. Slevin was a man of extraordinary character and devotion to duty. He had a deep loyalty to the Academy, and placed the welfare of the institution above every personal consideration. No sacrifice was too great, no service too humble. He was unassuming, quiet spoken, completely undemonstrative. But those who came to know him learned that they could have no finer friend.
-- R. C. MILLER, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco.
Copeia, Vol. 1959, No. 1 (Apr. 17, 1959),
Published by American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.