Lucy Weeks King: Ecologist for life

Isabel Evelyn, [email protected]

Contact: Allison Walters, [email protected]

“What do I know about ecology? It’s everything.”

-Lucy King, 2018

Lucy King has been involved with ecology since its infancy as a scientific discipline. As an undergraduate student of zoology in the early 1950s, King was a student of Eugene Odum, pioneer of ecosystem ecology and often considered the father of modern ecology, at the University of Georgia.

She graduated in 1956, eleven years before the Institute of Ecology was officially founded, nearly two decades before the building that would house the Odum School of Ecology was built, and well before ecology was offered as a degree at the university.

Recently, she returned to campus to visit the Odum School of Ecology shortly after its 50/10 celebration marking 2017 as the fiftieth anniversary of the Institute of Ecology and the tenth anniversary of the School.

Like her mentor Eugene Odum, King was a trailblazer.

Lucy Weeks King with Hayley Adair Schroeder in the Altizer butterfly lab.
Hayley Adair Schroeder, BS ’18, talked with Lucy Weeks King, BS Zoology ’56, about monarch butterfly research taking place in the lab of Athletic Association Professor of Ecology Sonia Altizer.

“Most women in zoology usually went to medical school, nursing school, or education to teach… but I had always loved bugs, and digging holes and finding worms.”

At that time, all classes were held primarily on North Campus; King attended her classes in Park Hall, the Academic Building, Baldwin Hall, and her chemistry courses in Terrell Hall. South Campus as we know it today simply did not exist.

Park Hall during the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the UGA Special Collections Libraries.
Park Hall during the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the UGA Special Collections Libraries.

King was the only female student in her two classes led by Dr. Odum, and as such, due to university policy, was required to bring a female friend with her on all class trips.

She fondly recalls trips to Sapelo Island, particularly the inaugural trip to the island. Marsh walks were a favorite, though the mud was not without some hazard.

“Sometimes you’d put your foot down, and it’d keep going,” she said.

King was already familiar with the Georgia coast. Growing up on Isle of Hope, and then in Brunswick, she would often ramble the woods and marsh, and remembers swimming between islands with her friends, a rope around their waists tying them together.

Of Eugene Odum, King has nothing but praise.

“I admire him more than you’ll ever know,” she said. “He was my idea of a genuine explorer. If he was interested in [something], he was going to find out about it. And he did.”

He would often throw his hand out on these trips, pointing out some far-off animal that often no one else could see at first, and immediately identify it for his students. His descriptions could be incredibly eloquent as well.

“I used to like writing poetry,” King said, “and I got into it because of Dr. Odum. He’d describe things in such a poetic way.”

She describes him as an incredibly gifted teacher with high expectations for his students, with an ability to see things in a way no one else could, and to teach about it.

“I don’t know how anybody could’ve taken his classes and gone on his trips and not have been influenced for life. I really don’t,” she said. “And that’s just the kind of man he was.”

After graduating from the University of Georgia, King attended Emory University to study physiology, and went on to a career as a well-known and respected canine cardiologist, collaborating with giants in the field of medicine, such as Leon Goldberg and Nobel laureate Louis Ignarro.

Now retired, she still enjoys hiking through the woods behind her house and, occasionally, digging holes and finding worms.

Lucy King and Isabel Evelyn at the turtle pond near the UGA Ecology building.
Isabel Evelyn, a fourth year Honors student pursuing degrees in ecology and anthropology, with Lucy Weeks King, who received her bachelor of science in zoology in 1956, before a degree in ecology was an option.

About the Author
Isabel Evelyn is a fourth year Honors student from Watkinsville pursuing degrees in ecology and anthropology.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the enrollment of women at UGA. Read more: Opening a door: 100 years of women at UGA