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Paleontologist Jack Horner gets public send off at Museum of the Rockies

May 23, 2016

By Lewis Kendall

Sitting beneath the Museum of the Rockies’ towering Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, surrounded by thousands of fossils he helped curate and dozens of people lined up to see him, Jack Horner was in the perfect place to reflect on his work.

Horner will retire at the end of the month after an illustrious 33-year career, which included a longtime position as the museum’s curator of paleontology. On Saturday, the museum held Jack Horner Family Day to celebrate the world-famous paleontologist’s accomplishments.

Visitors were invited to meet members of the museum’s field crews, watch paleontologists handle fossils and spend time with Horner himself.

“My legacy is my students,” the 69-year-old said. “Everyone has a job as a professor or curator and I’m so proud of them. What I’ve done is hopefully just gotten them started.”

Originally from Shelby, Montana, Horner established himself in the paleontological community after several notable discoveries and his research into the sociability of dinosaurs.

Horner’s countless findings earned him dozens of awards over the years. He wrote numerous scientific papers and several books, raised almost $8 million for the museum and acted as an adviser for the “Jurassic Park” movies — even earning a cameo in the most recent “Jurassic World.”

The museum had no dinosaur exhibits to speak of when Horner began working there. Today, it holds more than 35,000 fossils, making it one of the largest collections in the world.

A T. rex he dug up in 1988 will be the centerpiece of a Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History exhibit in 2019.

In honor of his retirement, the museum recently announced the creation of a $3 million endowed position, the John R. Horner curator of paleontology.

The museum also raised $4 million in private donations to build a new storage building on its west side, facing the Bobcat Football stadium. The building is scheduled to open next year.

But Horner’s legacy extends beyond the dollars and discoveries. Several of those in attendance Saturday characterized Horner as a role model.

“He got me started on the path to science, I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was in fifth grade,” said Bozeman resident Sarah Horak, 31. “He’s inspirational. And he’s local, which is the coolest part.”

And Horner already appears to have had an effect on Horak’s 2-year-old daughter, Kira, who said her favorite dinosaur was a T. rex.

Others focused on the impact that Horner has had on the local community.

“He’s made the museum quite famous,” said Ilah Shriver. “He’s a very interesting person.”

For his part, Horner preferred to defer attention to the museum itself.

“It’s really cool. It’s great to have so much great support for the museum,” he said.

Despite his impending retirement, Horner will have his hands full finishing several books, teaching at Chapman University in California and helping other programs collect fossils.

But all the work will still revolve around the same subject he has devoted a lifetime to, one that he has helped make universally appealing.

“I haven’t run into anyone yet who doesn’t like dinosaurs,” he said.



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