George R. Proctor has passed away. He was one of the so-called “Four Horsemen” of West Indian botanical taxonomy, a quartet who over the 20th century documented the biological richness of the Caribbean. Proctor himself collected over 55,000 specimens from more than 50 Caribbean islands.
One measure of his renown within the field is that some thirty species have been named in his honor, including Coccothrinax proctorii, the national tree of the Cayman Islands, which is also known as Proctor’s Silver Palm and the Cayman Thatch Palm.
Proctor, who was born in 1920, was publishing in the botanical literature from at least the age of 19. He was prolific. In this Rhodora article from 1959, note that Proctor begins his description of a new species just like Linneaus would have done so, in Latin, which is still a requirement in botanical nomenclature. Here he reports on several Puerto Rican fern species new to science in the 1980s.
The second edition of his Flora of the Cayman Islands was published in 2012. Some of the preliminary work for that revision can be seen in this Kew Bulletin paper from 1996, in which he admits “my former complacency about the completeness of the Flora was quickly shattered” upon hearing about a new tree species found there.
So, a rich and rewarding career. It comes, then, as something of a surprise to discover that Proctor finished his second edition of the Flora of Cayman Islands while in prison in Jamaica for conspiracy to commit murder.
Proctor had lived in Jamaica for 50 years. In 2006, at the age of 86, he was arrested at the airport as he tried to leave the island. He and his driver were charged with conspiracy to murder Proctor’s wife and three other women who lived with him. The two men were alleged to have hired a third man to do the deed for $100,000; it was this third man who alerted the authorities.
After many legal delays, Proctor and the driver were convicted in 2010. The 90-year-old Proctor was sentenced to four years for each charge, to be served consecutively. But in 2012, he was released from prison because of his deteriorating medical condition and deported to Boston, where he died two weeks ago.