BOULDER, Colo. - Noted paleontologist Malcolm Carnegie McKenna, 77, retired Frick curator of vertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, and professor emeritus of geological sciences at Columbia University, died on March 3, 2008, in Boulder, Colo.
The author of hundreds of research papers collected in over a dozen volumes, he was a world-renowned and influential paleontologist. He spent his 41-year career at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. After retirement, he had adjunct positions at the University of Colorado and the University of Wyoming.
As an active private pilot in the 1950s, McKenna would often do field work from the air, navigating the western United States solely by geologic features, sometimes landing his Cessna on remote dirt roads in Wyoming.
From 1967 until 1975, he was an avid runner of rivers in the Colorado River basin, participating in a 100th anniversary John Wesley Powell expedition in 1969. He had a prodigious cartographic memory and was an expert on the geology and fossil beds in the western United States, especially in Wyoming.
He loved off-color limericks and good practical jokes. After winning a late-night poker game against a Wyoming rancher, McKenna and his field crew posted signs claiming the ranch as the property of the Regents of the University of California, which led to a friendly feud involving forklifts, trees, weather balloons and mail boxes.
He was born in Pomona, Calif., in 1930, the son of Donald and Bernice McKenna. He grew up in Claremont, Calif., where he attended Webb School.
At age 17, McKenna discovered his first fossil Titanothere skull, nicknamed "Betsy," in Nebraska. McKenna initially attended Caltech and Pomona College, and then received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.
His great-grandmother, Anna Hogan McKenna, was a cousin of Andrew Carnegie. His father, Donald, was one of the founding trustees of Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Priscilla McKenna, of Boulder, Colo.; four children and their spouses, Douglas McKenna of Boulder, Colo.; Andrew McKenna, of Boulder, Colo.; Katharine McKenna of Woodstock, N.Y.; Bruce and Maureen McKenna, of Santa Fe, N.M.; and nine grandchildren.
Donations in memory of Malcolm McKenna may be sent to: The Malcolm C. McKenna Goler Research Fund, Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, 1175 West Baseline Rd., Claremont, CA 91711.