Each spring, the Paleontological Research Institution is proud to recognize a nonprofessional for outstanding contributions to the field of paleontology. It is with great pleasure that PRI presents its 2009 Katherine Palmer Award to Richard E. Petit.

Richard Eugene “Dick” Petit was born in Sumter, South Carolina. He attended Clemson College (now University) and served in the U.S. Army in Korea and Japan in the early 1950s. In 1956, he and his wife “Liz” (beautiful Elizabeth Porter from Scotland, with which he would have one daughter, Elizabeth) settled in North Myrtle Beach where he entered the insurance and real estate business, a career that would serve him well through to retirement. But in the early 1960s, another passion took hold - shells. In 1962, he began correspondence with Katherine Van Winkle Palmer, then Director of PRI, purchasing publications and petitioning for membership (he was nominated by Katherine Palmer herself). In 1965, he purchased a shell and book dealership, with which he would ultimately become the foremost used shell book dealer in our field. He called his book business “recycling” because he “never attempted to make money at it.” He maintained want lists for his many customers, bundled reprints into subject lots, and helped many professionals and amateurs build their libraries. In the process, he built his own collection into one of the finest private malacological libraries in the country. In 2004, he retired from this part of life, passing on his “recycling” business to Christopher Garvie of Texas, who continues “recycling” today. (Chris coincidentally received last year’s Katherine Palmer Award for his own laudable contributions.)

Along the way, Dick became an accomplished avocational paleontologist and malacologist. He is author or co-author of close to 100 peer-reviewed publications on Recent and fossil mollusks, beginning in 1964 and continuing to the present. He is a recognized world expert on the gastropod family Cancellariidae. He is the author of numerous new taxa in Cancellaroidea and other gastropod groups, and has coauthored papers with some of the late twentieth century’s leading malacologists, including Axel Olsson, Jerry Harasewych, Peter Jung, Gary Schmelz, Shirley Hoerle, Druid Wilson, Harald Rehder, Kenneth Boss, Gary Rosenberg, Alan Kabat, and Rüdiger Bieler. His type specimens are deposited in PRI’s collections as well as the Smithsonian and other major museums. He compiled the International Directory of Conchologists from 1965-1971. In recent years, he has produced marvelously useful bio-bibliographies and collations of the works of malacological authors, including Habe, the Sowerbys, and others. He is also a co-author of the online resource 2,400 Years of Malacology, “a comprehensive catalog of biographical and bibliographical publications for over 10,000 malacologists, conchologists, paleontologists, and others with an interest in mollusks, from Aristotle to the present.”

Dick Petit was a friend of Katherine Palmer, keeping regular correspondence, visiting frequently in his capacity as PRI Research Associate, and ultimately writing memorial pieces for publication after her death in 1982. Dick has served PRI especially well for many years, becoming a Life Member, serving on the Board of Trustees from 1993-1996, and supporting many PRI projects, especially the Library and the Student Award in Systematic Paleontology.

In recognition of his contributions, Dick was elected President of the American Malacological Union (now Society) in 1987, and organized the annual meeting in Charleston in 1988. He also served AMS as Councilor, and lent his financial expertise by chairing the Finance and Symposium Fund committees for several years. He is perhaps best known (or at least most popularly recognized) as auctioneer at the annual AMU Auction to raise funds for symposia and students. At these events, both his bibliophilia and wit were in full display - especially when his wife Liz bid on something he considered utterly ridiculous! Dick was also a Research Associate (1982-2002) at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and is a consulting editor for The Nautilus, the oldest still-publishing malacological serial in the U.S. He has at least one species named after him: Fenimorea petiti Tippett, 1995 (a Recent gastropod in the family Turridae from the Gulf of Mexico off western Florida), “in recognition of his many contributions to malacology.”

In his retirement, Dick is hardly retired, continuing to do research and publish in malacology and paleontology from his home office in North Myrtle Beach. He and Liz continue to offer their special brand of southern hospitality to visitors seeking to use his vast personal library or just sit and “talk shells” for awhile. He is far from “done,” and we look forward to more.

The Katherine Palmer Award is named for PRI’s second director, Katherine van Winkle Palmer, who held avocational paleontologists in high regard and collaborated with many during her long career. PRI has presented this award almost every year since 1993. We are especially grateful to the Mid-America Paleontological Society for providing us with a very special venue at which to present this award over much of that time.