Dr. Shya Chitaley, former Curator and Head of Paleobotany at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, passed away peacefully on Sunday, March 31, 2013.
Scientists throughout the world consider her to be a "giant" in the specialized field of Paleobotany, the study of ancient plants.
Her research at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History centered upon the reconstruction of the 363 million-year-old (Late Devonian) forest of club mosses of Ohio. She studied the plant fossils collected from the Cleveland Shale.
She was the author of 147 research publications, 40 of which were devoted to the plant fossils of the Cleveland Shale. She was also a well-known presenter for national and international conferences.
During her career, Dr. Chitaley received numerous awards and honors. Among those were the Medal for excellence in paleobotanical research and lifetime achievement award from the Birbal-Savitri Sahni Foundation in Lucknow, India and the The Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Jared Potter Kirtland Award for outstanding achievement in a field of natural science.
Upon being hired by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 1980, at the age of 62, Dr. Chitaley instituted the museum's department of Paleobotany. And then, she went on to complete 31 years of dedicated service to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Paleobotany.
The most remarkable fact concerning Dr. Chitaley's career is that her time in Cleveland was really her "second" career! And, her "second" career was actually longer than her "first" career! After earning her Ph.D. in Botany (Paleobotany), at the University of Reading, in England, she had a 28-year career at the Institute of Science, Nagpur and Bombay, India, where she was department head, professor of botany, and supervisor of Ph.D. students. During her "first" career in India, her research efforts centered upon the Upper Cretaceous Flora of the Deccan Intertrappeans of India. As a result of her intensive study of these fossils, Dr. Chitaley gained an exceptional understanding of the Upper Cretaceous forest of the Madhya Pradeah.
In July of 1982, Dr. Chitaley, founded "The Fossil Society" which was made up of fossil collectors and enthusiasts who went on field trips together and held their meetings at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
In March of 1997, some members of the Fossil Society formed a new club called the "North Coast Fossil Club".
Despite the fact that the North Coast Fossil Club (NCFC) was independent from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Dr. Chitaley continued her very generous support.
Her financial support made possible the NCFC annual Chitaley Paleobotany Presentation and Award meeting. Held every December, members of the NCFC compete by making presentations on any paleobotanical subject with the winner being awarded a fossil specimen.
Also through the generosity of Dr. Chitaley, the North Coast Fossil Club sponsors its annual Devonian Plant Fossil Competition. All members of the NCFC are invited to participate in the competition by bringing their best Devonian plant fossils to the February meeting. The winners of the annual Devonian Plant Fossil Competition are presented the Gerling-Reich Award.
The membership of the North Coast Fossil Club is deeply grateful to Dr. Chitaley for her generosity and support throughout the years. It is certain that her kindness will never be forgotten.