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  • "We were all very sad to hear this news. Bhaiya may you rest..."
    - Cuckie Krishna
  • "Dear Valeri, We are very saddened by the news of Mumar's..."
    - Kshama & Suresh Chandra
  • "Kumar Bhaiya strangely for the past few weeks I have been..."
    - Uma Sarwal
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    - Marjorie Schlender de Ullrich
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KRISHNA--Kumar. Entomologist and world authority on termites - a group of some 3,100 species of singular ecological significance - died on September 19 in his home in Manhattan after triumphing over multiple cancers for 15 years. He was 86. Dr. Krishna spent 34 years as Professor at the City College of New York and 52 years as a Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History, where he was steward to the Museum's monumental termite collection of over one million specimens. He served as Chairman of the Graduate Program in Biology at City College, among other administrative positions. During that tenure, he also helped develop a formal program in graduate research training between City College and the Museum, which produced many notable biologists and continues to thrive. His greatest pleasure, however, was being on the 5th floor of the Museum working on papers that would eventually re-define the diversity and evolutionary history of the most social of all insects. Dr. Krishna graduated from the University of Chicago under the eminent biologist Alfred E. Emerson, who had a transformative effect on the nascent entomologist. Over the years, Dr. Krishna greatly expanded Emerson's collection, spending many months in the forests of Sri Lanka, South India, Malaysia, and Indonesia, searching out and observing termites, making the collection on Central Park West into the largest and most comprehensive in the world. Dr. Krishna retired from City College in 1996 and focused on research for the next 18 years. A special interest was termites fossilized in amber, revealing, for example, that termites formed nature's original societies probably more than 130 million years ago, well before ants. Dr. Krishna's main post-retirement research was his magnum opus on the world's termites. On April 25, 2013, the 7-volume, 2704-page "Treatise on the Isoptera of the World" was published, one of the largest projects ever done in the 144-year history of the AMNH, and the most comprehensive single study done on any group of social insects. Into his 80's, he and his wife Valerie often spent late evenings at the museum working on the "Treatise", like graduate students again. Dr. Krishna broke the mold of the academic persona, always handsomely attired, delighting in classical music and fine food and wine. He was jovial, enthusiastic, generous, and highly encouraging to students and young faculty. Dr. Krishna was a member of the Linnean Society of London and the Oriental Club, London; there are 14 species and genera of insects named after him. In 2011, a 324-page Festschrift volume was published in his honor. Kumar Krishna was born 21 June 1928 in Rangoon, then part of British India; he grew up in Dehra Dun, in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. His father was a physician and one of the first Indians to serve in the British Army as a major in WWI. Young Kumar received his B.Sc. from Agra University in 1950 and his M.Sc. from Lucknow University in 1952. He met his wife, Valerie Smith, while studying for his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago from 1955 to 1961. When they moved to New York Valerie took a position as Professor of English at City College, simultaneously studying for her Ph.D. at New York University. She is a noted scholar on Arthurian literature and Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales". Besides his devoted and loving wife Valerie, Dr. Krishna is survived by two sisters, Veena Puri of Adelaide, Australia, and Dr. Prabha Prakash of White Plains, by ten nieces and nephews, and many friends and admiring colleagues.

Published in The New York Times on Sept. 28, 2014
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