Kristian Fauchald, a marine biologist internationally recognized for his research on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, died April 4 at George Washington University Hospital. He was 79.
His husband, Leonard Hirsch, said the cause of death was complications associated with the sudden onset of a bronchial and heart-related condition.
Fauchald most recently served as Research Zoologist Emeritus at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, where he continued his life’s work of studying a family of ocean living worms known as Polychaetous Annelids.
During his tenure of more than 35 years at the Smithsonian, Fauchald traveled to oceans throughout the world collecting samples of the marine organisms he and his collaborators studied. His scientific papers and two books considered groundbreaking in his field have been credited with advancing the world’s knowledge of ocean ecosystems.
“He impacted people around the world and in this country, of course – students, scientists and LGBT folks,” Hirsch said. “He was a truly outstanding human being.”
Fauchald was born in Norway in 1935. He received Norway’s equivalent of bachelor and master’s degrees at the University of Bergen before moving to California in 1965, where he entered and completed a doctorate degree program at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles.
In 1969, he became assistant professor of biology at USC and a short time later he was appointed curator of marine annelids at the California-based Allan Hancock Foundation, according to a write-up on Fauchald’s career and life prepared by Hirsch and several of Fauchald’s friends.
The write-up by Fauchald’s friends says Fauchald moved to D.C. in 1979 to begin what became a 35-year association with the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History. His first position there in 1979 was with the museum’s Department of Invertebrate Zoology.
“He also involved himself in the gay community in the District, initiating rap sessions at the Gay Community Center on Church Street,” the write-up says. “He was active in the early days of the D.C. Adventuring Group [a gay outdoors organization].”
Hirsch said he and Fauchald met in 1983 and became domestic partners in 2001. They bought and began renovating a house on Q Street, N.W. in 1984, the write-up says, “that became known as ‘gay central” for LGBT organizations and causes as well as a gathering place for the couple’s extended circle of friends they considered to be family.
Fauchald and Hirsch married in California in 2008.
Hirsch said that during his years at the Smithsonian, Fauchald played an important role in helping Hirsch carry out Hirsch’s duties as president of Federal GLOBE, an organization that represents LGBT federal employees.
“Beyond his own scientific research, Kristian was a mentor for many, and the Q Street home became a haven to a long list of biologists,” the write-up says. “His deep knowledge of worms and the breadth of philosophy constantly urged inquiry,” it says.
“He was always willing to listen, and the esteem with which he is held in the scientific community can be seen in the over 30 species named for him!” says the write-up by his friends.
In a recently published obituary for Fauchald in the scientific publication World Register of Marine Species, for which Fauchald was a founding editor, the publication printed the names of all of the species bearing his name, including the most recent one in 2013 called Chirimia fauchaldi Light.
In addition to Hirsch, Fauchald is survived by his brothers Jens and Per Fauchald of Norway along with their wives and his numerous nieces and nephews.
Smithsonian officials and Fauchald’s longtime associates and friends were expected to pay special tribute to him on July 1 when they celebrate International Polychaete Day, which falls on Fauchald’s 80th birthday. Polchaetes are a class of marine worms that Fauchald devoted much of his life to studying.