Nancy Voss

NAV drawing larvae 1954

Nancy A. Voss (1929–2020)

Nancy Voss, former director of the Marine Invertebrate Museum at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and research professor emeritus at the University of Miami, died in her sleep after a short illness in Tenafly, New Jersey, on June 10, 2020. She was 90 years old, and is survived by a son, Robert, also of Tenafly; a daughter Linda, of Miami; a sister, Marjean, of Catonsville, Maryland; and two grandchildren. Nancy embraced all of her roles in life—daughter, sister, wife, mother, research scientist, university professor, and museum director—with equal commitment, made major contributions in the field of cephalopod taxonomy, helped preserve the tangible research legacy of RSMAS for future generations, and was internationally active in promoting cephalopod research.

Nancy was born on November 20, 1929 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Henry (Hank) and Annie Cashman, who had just lost all of their savings in the stock market crash. The impoverished family moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where Annie’s parents lived, and where Hank found employment managing a gas station. Later, after Hank was offered a sales position at a paper company based in Baltimore, the family moved to Catonsville, Maryland. Nancy excelled academically at high school and won a scholarship to attend Mount Saint Agnes College, from which she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1951.

In 1950, while still an undergraduate, Nancy signed up for a summer course in marine biology to be taught by the illustrious F.G. Walton Smith at the University of Miami. Upon arrival, she was dismayed to learn that Smith was on temporary leave from the university, and that the replacement instructor was an undergraduate teaching fellow named Gilbert Voss. One thing led to another, however, and Nancy and Gil were married in 1952.

The young couple collaborated on several research projects in the years that followed. The first of these was focused on the planktonic larval and juvenile fishes of the Florida Current. These were the topic of Nancy’s Master’s thesis and her first major scientific publication. Simultaneously, Nancy and Gil did extensive fieldwork on the marine invertebrates and algae of Soldier Key and Bimini, resulting in ecological monographs that remain important as early inventories of the unpolluted inshore flora and fauna of the tropical western Atlantic.

Nancy’s research productivity in this period was all the more impressive because she was also raising a young family. However, by the time both children were in school, in the early 1960s, Nancy’s interests had turned to cephalopod systematics. The taxonomy of mesopelagic squids—crucially important elements of oceanic food webs—was desperately in need of attention at the time: the literature was cluttered with unrecognized synonyms, undescribed species were difficult to recognize as such, and bizarre larval forms could not be confidently associated with adult phenotypes. Nancy’s 1969 monograph on the squid family Histioteuthidae set new standards for squid revisionary systematics and provided proof-of-concept for her subsequent NSF-funded research program on cranchiids in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nancy’s formal association with the Marine Laboratory at the University of Miami (later RSMAS) dated from 1957, when she was appointed Research Instructor; subsequent academic appointments included Research Assistant (in 1970), Research Assistant Professor (1973), Research Associate Professor (1974), Research Professor (1981), and Research Professor Emeritus (2007). Over her many decades on the RSMAS faculty, she served on numerous doctoral and Master’s committees and supervised several undergraduate honors theses.

In addition to her teaching and research responsibilities, and following Gil’s death in 1989, she was tasked with directing the laboratory’s Marine Invertebrate Museum, a CITES-registered collection with uniquely extensive holdings from the tropical Atlantic and the tropical eastern Pacific, including material from both inshore and deep-sea research programs. Under Nancy’s directorship, the museum became a magnet for biodiversity researchers from throughout the Caribbean Basin, as well as a permanent repository of specimens and archives supporting the research of RSMAS faculty and students. Without any salaried staff, Nancy personally cataloged and curated specimens, packed and unpacked loans, hosted visitors, and answered countless requests for information, time-consuming activities that largely sidelined her research during the last three decades of her career.

Nancy was an active member of the global cephalopod research community, and she was a founding member of the influential Cephalopod International Advisory Council (CIAC), which she chaired from 1985 to 1988. Her important participation in numerous CIAC-sponsored conferences, symposia, and workshops in the early years of the organization was acknowledged by a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. Her unfailing enthusiasm and support for young cephalopod researchers, and her commitment to inclusion and collaboration will be remembered by everyone who worked with her to promote research on the organisms she loved.

Robert S. Voss
Tenafly, NJ

You may also enjoy this video of Nancy in her beloved collection:

%d bloggers like this: