Robert Allen Long
May 23, 1946-July 9, 2023
Submitted by Jerri Pantages Long
Many small children are enchanted with dinosaurs. Very few, however, have a lifetime fascination with fossils. Robert Allen Long was in the exceptional minority. Born May 23, 1946, in Whittier, California, some of Rob’s earliest childhood memories are visiting the impressive local public library with his parents (Elsa Erbes Long and O. Aubrey Long) and his older brother (Tom). There, in the children’s section, Rob discovered many books depicting dinosaurs. He was hooked!
By age 11, Rob was saving up his allowance for bus fare to downtown Los Angeles on weekends. From the bus station, he hiked through not-so-nice neighborhoods to reach the towering city library. For 25 cents, he could get an inter-library loan from almost anywhere in the state, allowing him to read scientific tomes and papers about fossil discoveries. At that time, libraries did not have photocopy machines available to the public, so Rob took tracing paper and pencils to trace the illustrated fossils.
By age 15, Rob had the audacity to hitchhike to University of California, Berkeley, to tell Fulbright scholar Dr. Samuel P. Welles that he had made an error in his scientific paper. Rob believed that the dinosaur was incorrectly described. Sam was convinced, and changed the mounted skeleton to show not one, but two crests, as Rob suggested: Dilophosaurus. That was the beginning of a friendship and working relationship that lasted until Sam’s death in 1997. Sam invited Rob to participate in summer “digs” in Arizona, particularly at the Petrified Forest National Park (1965-68). They also took a 6-month trip across the United States, taking over 30,000 shots of fossil bones in museums along the way.
“Arizona Long,” as we lovingly called him, had field work adventures that included encounters with scorpions, rattlesnakes, flash floods, and quicksand. Then there were the two dozen kidney stones that occurred after field seasons. Rob considered it all worth the joy of discoveries.
Rob became a research associate at UC Berkeley, leading his own field crews on fossil hunts in Petrified Forest National Park. He named most of the animals found there, plus the localities. During the summer of 1985, Rob was the leader of a crew that discovered the fossil remains of what Rob called “a whopping small dinosaur.” Rob named it Chindesaurus – the world’s oldest dinosaur!
That discovery, and the military helicopter airlift of the fossil from the Painted Desert to UC Berkeley, touched off an international news flurry, with television and newspaper interviews. Rob’s name and photograph appeared in USA newspapers from The San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times, and many more. He was featured as a “newsmaker” in Newsweek Magazine. A documentary film was made, which now can be seen online via You-Tube. (Its title is “A Whopping Small Dinosaur.”) That documentary is shown each June 6 on “Dinosaur Day” at the Petrified Forest National Park.
Rob published a book called “Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” but in the world of paleontology, Rob is best known for co-authoring with Phil Murry in 1995 a lengthy monograph (254 pages) with the lengthy title of “Late Triassic (Carnian and Norian) Tetrapods from the Southwestern United States.” It became known as “The Green Book” (for its cover color) by graduate students in many parts of the world.
Paleontology provided Rob with lots of special experiences, including being one of the consultants for the 1992 movie “Jurassic Park.” He and his colleague Dale Russell told filmmaker Phil Tippett that upright dinosaurs would not have forked tongues (which are used by low-to-the-ground or slithery creatures to sense prey). But did it really matter to the millions of people who would see the movie? Was it worth costly changes? Apparently so.
During the summer of 1967, Rob was staying in Berkeley when a friend invited him on a picnic in the wine country sponsored by UC Berkeley’s International House. Rob happened to carpool with two other fellows in a VW bug driven by Jerri Pantages, who was living at International House while completing her teaching credential. From that chance encounter came a marriage that lasted 54 years, until Rob’s death on July 9, 2023, after his 8-month battle with esophageal cancer. They lived in Pleasanton, California, for the past 45 years.
Besides Jerri, Rob is survived by their son Geoffrey Elliott Long; brother Tom Long (wife Kathy) of Walnut Creek; nieces Melissa Long and Natasha Leydecker and their families; brothers-in-law Richard Pantages (wife Sandi) of Fremont and Tim Pantages (wife Sue) of Tigard, Oregon; plus cousins, colleagues, and friends who have enriched his life.
Before his death, Rob was pleased to donate his extensive scientific library and notes to the Petrified Forest National Park (PFNP) to help establish a research library for use by visiting paleontologists. Thanks to Bill Parker, Program Manager, Resource Stewardship and Science, for facilitating the project. PFNP has become THE center of Triassic research in recent decades. The research library will be housed in an historic building designed by architect Richard Neutra, which is scheduled for restoration and refurnishing. Memorial donations to the project may be made to: http://give.nationalparks.org/goto/Robert_Allen_Long
At Rob’s request, no memorial services will be held. Special thanks to Kaiser Permanente’s departments of oncology, palliative care and hospice for helping Rob maintain his quality of life until the very end.