Blair, William Franklin (1912–1985)

By: Art Leatherwood

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: April 16, 2019

W. Frank Blair, zoologist, was born on June 25, 1912, at Dayton, Texas, the eldest of the five children of Percy Franklin and Mona Clyde (Patrick) Blair. His family moved to Westville, Oklahoma, in 1916 and to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1922. Blair graduated from Tulsa Central High School in 1930 and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Tulsa in 1934. He married Fern Antell, a librarian at the University of Tulsa, on October 25, 1933; they had no children.

Blair received an M.S. degree from the University of Florida in 1935 and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1938. He remained at the University of Michigan as a research associate until 1942, when he entered the United States Army Air Corps. He returned briefly to Ann Arbor in 1946 and in the same year accepted a position at the University of Texas, where he remained for the rest of his life. He was the first director of the university's Brackenridge Field Laboratory and chairman of the budget council for the Marine Science Institute. He was promoted to professor in 1955 and to professor emeritus in zoology upon his retirement in 1982. Between 1935 and 1982 Blair published or edited some 162 papers, articles, and books, including Vertebrates of the United States (1957), The Rusty Lizard: A Population Study (1960), Evolution in the Genus Bufo (1972), and Big Biology: The U.S.-I.B.P. [International Biological Program] (1977). He supervised forty-nine Ph.D. and fifty-one M.A. studies and was an invited lecturer for ninety presentations worldwide between 1968 and 1982.

He developed an international reputation in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology and conducted major research projects on subjects such as the genus Bufo and its parallels in the faunas of desert regions in North and South America. The latter project led to his involvement in the International Biological Program, a fifty-seven-nation project sponsored by the International Council of Scientific Unions, which had as its major goal the achievement of a better understanding of the world's ecosystems. From 1968 to 1972 Blair was chairman of the United States National Committee of the IBP. He also helped edit the program's fourteen scientific volumes on the global environment. In 1977 he was honored for his work with the IBP as the twenty-fifth recipient of the Joseph Priestly Award, established by Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to recognize scientific contributions to the welfare of humanity.

Blair was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He served as president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Ecological Society of America, the Southwestern Association of Naturalists, and the Texas Herpetological Society. He was also vice president of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and of the Texas Academy of Science. He was a member of several environmentally oriented state committees, including the Governor's Colorado River Basin Water Quality Management Study Planning Committee (1972–73) and the Texas Committee on Natural Resources (beginning in 1969).

Blair died on February 11, 1985; his ashes were scattered over the grounds of his ten acres, on the site of Fort Colorado. At his request the land was donated to the Travis Audubon Society, which established the site as a natural preserve for ecological studies.

Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in America, 1980–81.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Art Leatherwood, “Blair, William Franklin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
April 16, 2019