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Lawrence Kaplan


1926 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
Lawrence Kaplan Obituary
Lawrence Kaplan of Newton Centre, MA, died March 6, 2018, at his residence in Washington, DC. He was 91. Kaplan was an eminent authority on the origins and domestication of beans in the Americas and the identification of beans from archaeological contexts. Born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 14, 1926, the younger of two sons of Fannie (Eisen) Kaplan, and Herman Kaplan, he met his future wife, Lucille Nobler (Lucy), in high school. He served in the US Navy in the Pacific as Pharmacists Mate third class from April 15, 1944 - June 1, 1946. Lawrence and Lucy married on August 25, 1946, and moved to Iowa City where Lawrence received his BA and MS in Botany from the University of Iowa. Returning to Chicago, Kaplan began his doctoral work in Botany at the University of Chicago. He was Associate Curator, Museum of Useful Plants, at the Missouri Botanical Garden in 1955, and instructor in Botany at Wright College in 1956 and 1957. As Research Associate at the University of Chicago Anthropology Department, he conducted ethnobotanical fieldwork in Chiapas, Mexico, where he and Lucy spent summers in 1956, 1957, and 1958. Kaplan received his PhD in Botany from the University of Chicago in 1956. Lawrence and Lucy later conducted fieldwork in Oaxaca, Mexico. Kaplan taught at Roosevelt University, Chicago from 1957 to 1965. Recruited in spring, 1965, to serve as a founding member of the University of Massachusetts Boston campus, Kaplan helped establish the Biology Department, which he went on to chair three times. Lucy was hired the next year and taught as a lecturer in the Department of Social Relations (later Anthropology) for the next 25 years. Kaplan wrote in a 2006 reminiscence of the early UMass years, it had the glowing quality that is the special property of a start-up enterprise. To his surprise, he was appointed by then-Chancellor John Ryan to serve as UMass Bostons first Secretary of the Faculty until the faculty established a system of elective governance. Why me? he asked. It turned out that Ryan had talked with Art Gentile [botanist, in the Provosts Office in Amherst] about the position... and told Art that he wanted someone in the natural sciences who would not be obsessed with politics and who was 'easy to get along with.' We did get along quite well. Kaplan authored and co-authorized dozens of scholarly articles. He served three terms on the Council of the Society for Economic Botany, as president of that society (1987-1988), and reviews editor (1988-1990) and editor (1990-1999) of its journal, Economic Botany. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1989. He served as Faculty Associate for the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1976 - 1994. Kaplan retired from teaching in 1995 with the title professor emeritus. His papers and field slides are archived at the University Archives at UMass Boston. His field collections are at museums in the U.S., Mexico and Peru. He was a loyal member of the Newton Conservators, serving on the board and as treasurer. Lawrence Kaplan was preceded in death by Lucy, his wife of 69 years, his brother Bernard Kaplan, and sister-in-law Rosalyn (Cohen) Kaplan of North Eastham, MA. He is survived by daughters Martha Kaplan (John Kelly), Emily Kaplan, Elisabeth Kaplan (Bob Horton); grandchildren Nory Kaplan-Kelly and Rose Kaplan-Kelly; nieces Clair Kaplan (Fran Wiener), Carla Kaplan (Steven Larsen). A private memorial is planned for the spring. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to or Planned Parenthood.
Published in The Newton Tab from Mar. 23 to Apr. 4, 2018
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