Professor, mentor, husband, father, and grampy Samuel J. McNaughton was called home to eternal rest by his Lord and Savior on January 18, 2024. As was his wish, Sam lived out his final years peacefully at home with Margaret, his beloved wife of 64 years, with whom he fell hopelessly in love at age 16.
Sam was born to Frank and Ruth (nee Flanders) McNaughton in Takoma Park, Maryland in 1939 and spent most of his childhood in northwest Missouri. While studying agriculture at Northwest Missouri State University in the 1950s, Sam took an ecology class that changed the course of his life with Margaret. After earning a PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, Sam joined Syracuse University’s biology faculty in 1966. Seven years later, Sam and Margaret visited friends in Africa’s Rift Valley and realized Sam’s childhood dream of seeing Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
On returning from safari, Sam reoriented his research to study grassland ecology in the Serengeti. Margaret and their children were blessed to accompany him on many research seasons over Sam’s 25 years of groundbreaking work, and will happily bore you with interminable stories of life in the bush if you’re foolish enough to ask.
Stateside, Sam taught countless undergrads and considered it his privilege to mentor 25 graduate students and postdocs, many of whom have gone on to impressive careers of their own. He received the Chancellor’s Citation from Syracuse University, an endowed chair from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, and the Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America, not that he would have told you himself.
Though Sam spent decades teaching others, he considered himself to be a perpetual student and read both voraciously and widely. He enjoyed fly fishing, railroad memorabilia, and building N scale model train layouts. His passion for nearly every genre of music is reflected in a spectacular collection of vintage vinyl albums (not to mention a recently unearthed Brittany Spears cassette). He deeply loved the natural world and explaining its wonders to anyone willing to listen.
Sam would happily brag about every member of his family except himself. He was endlessly curious about other people and took great joy in hearing their stories.
He was a loved and respected member of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church, which he attended faithfully for more than 40 years.
And yet, as has been pointed out, none of these things made Sam important. What made him important was that he loved his God deeply, Margaret boundlessly, and his family unwaveringly. And though they miss him terribly, they find comfort in the knowledge that, in God’s grace and mercy, they will again see their beloved husband, father, and grampy.
Sam would be the first to agree that this is by far his richest legacy.
He is survived by his wife Margaret, children Sean (wife Catherine) and Erin, as well as six grandchildren: Martine, Joshua, Shelby, Eli, Grace, and Esther – all of whom continue to be deeply grateful for the many years with Sam as the loving patriarch of the McNaughton family.