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The Later Years: 1961-1973

By Karen Lloyd

A $20,000 grant from the NSF (G5007) and his subsequent retirement as Chairman of the Biology Department enabled Professor Alexander to concentrate his research on the distribution of grasshoppers at different altitudes. During the summers of 1958, 1959, and 1960 Professor Alexander and his research associate Dr. John Hilliard Jr. devoted their full time to the study of grasshoppers along an altitudinal gradient in the Rocky Mountains, near Boulder, Colorado. With the help of students and Professor Alexander's wife Marion, they collected over 60,000 specimens from 14 locations.

Professor Alexander used grasshoppers as a tool to study a variety of ecological aspects associated with altitude. In particular, he was investigating what effect altitude had on the distribution and seasonal occurrences of grasshoppers, but he hoped that his research could also be used by other researchers interested in ecology.

Marion and John Hilliard in the Field

Marion and John Hilliard in the Field near Boulder, CO.

According to Professor Alexander, in his article of 1969, the study of the effects of altitude should be investigated along an east-west altitudinal gradient so as to exclude any effects from a latitude change. The Rocky Mountains and the Plains surrounding Boulder were an ideal location, especially as the distance between the highest elevations and the lowest was only 30 miles.

During the years from 1960 to 1969 Professor Alexander published 13 articles on grasshoppers and altitude distribution. A revised second edition of his General Biology textbook was published in 1962 and it was translated into Spanish in 1969. This time period was a time of change in America's approach to conservation and the environment. With the release of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring in 1962, the American public became aware of the damage that was being inflicted on habitats, flora and fauna as a result of man's effect on the environment.

Although Professor Alexander's high mountain locations were protected from destruction, several sites near Boulder were being lost to the construction of houses and sub-divisions. His earlier collections from these lost sites will provide valuable information for ecologists and conservationists working today on changes in climate and biodiversity.

The years after his retirement from the University in 1966 were full and very active. Gordon continued with his research, but the reduction in University responsibilities gave him the opportunity to spend more time with Marion and his grandchildren and pursue other interests.

Gordon and Marion were keen gardeners and traveled extensively throughout North America and Europe visiting rock and alpine gardens, and summer days were often spent at their cabin in Moon Gulch, West of Boulder. Gordon was never very far from the outdoors and the area that he had come to love. He took up art classes and, drawing upon his experiences in Thailand, would often use the natural world around him as his subjects and inspiration.

Marion and Gordon at Their Cabin in Moon Gulch nr. Boulder CO.

Gordon served on many councils including; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Entomological Society of America; American Society of Zoologists; the Society for the Study of Evolution; and the American Ornithologists Union. His passion for studying Natural History and promoting Ecology as an independent discipline was as strong in retirement as it had been throughout his working life.

In 1971 Gordon and Marion visited Thailand for the third and final time. The first time in 1928 had been on a Rockefeller Scholarship, the second in 1956 on a Fulbright Scholarship, and each time Gordon had taught at the Chulalongkorn University. This time Gordon and Marion returned to visit old friends and former students, but before their arrival in Thailand they made a detour to Katmandu to visit the world's highest mountains and ecology.

On July 31, 1973 Gordon and Marion were tragically killed when the airplane they were traveling in crashed while landing in Boston. The year of their death had been filled with travel and reunions with old friends: typical of Gordon and Marion. Their funeral in Boulder was attended by friends and family who brought masses of garden and wild flowers: a fitting tribute for two people who had loved the outdoors and the natural beauty around them.

In their memory, the Marion and Gordon Alexander Memorial Scholarship Fund was established with the University of Colorado Foundation. The fund provides scholarships to upper division and graduate students majoring in Biology at CU-Boulder and having a particular interest in mountain ecology (#0001635134).

From the 1973 memorial service for Gordon and Marion: A modest, friendly person, Gordon, found time to be a teacher, advisor, administrator, researcher and writer—as well as a husband and father. He is remembered for his earnest interest in his students that caused them to feel free to drop in for encouragement and counsel. He and Marion entertained hosts of students, former students, new faculty, Thai and other foreign students both in their home and at Kinglet, their cabin. The cabin was often a convenient coffee and donut stop during mountain ecology field trips.

One of Gordon and Marion's great loves was the Front Range of the Rockies. They loved it, studied its animal and plant life, knew it intimately and were concerned about its total ecology. Their ashes were scattered in the area of Mt. Audobon so in a real sense they became a dynamic part of the seasons and cycles of life they loved. Gordon Alexander's research, with his detailed observations and records, now provides a foundation for further exploration of mountain ecology into the 21st Century.


The author would like to thank the following people for their help and unwavering support throughout this project;

Professor Deane Bowers

Professor Cesar Nufio

Professor Robert Guralnick

Amy Wilkinson

Michael D'Onofrio

In addition the following have provided invaluable information:

Professor Douglas Alexander

Mrs. Anne Alexander Bingham

Mrs. Halka Chronic

Dan Elliott, Curator of the Stephens Museum, Missouri


Don Van Horn (Field Photographs)

The Alexander and Bingham Family

Amy Wilkinson (Grasshopper Photographs)

Karen Lloyd

Michael D'Onofrio

Missouri River Network Community (Missouri River photographs)

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