Through six decades of leadership and philanthropy, George Putnam (Harvard AB49, MBA51, LLD85)—who passed away at 92 on March 25—left an indelible legacy across Boston, from championing public health and higher education to science and the arts. The former chairman of Putnam Investments received three degrees from Harvard including one in biochemistry, and stayed deeply involved with his alma mater through his life, serving on the Board of Overseers and later as Treasurer of the university.
Putnam’s wide-ranging community interests also extended to horticulture and plant science at the Arnold Arboretum, where he created the institution’s flagship opportunity for collections research. In 1998, Putnam made a $1 million gift to establish and endow the Katharine H. Putnam Research Fellowships, named in memory of his mother, an avid horticulturist. Putnam Fellowships fund original research at the Arboretum by graduate students, post graduate scholars, and mid-career professionals interested in using the living, herbarium, and archival collections to generate new knowledge and practical applications for horticulture, landscape architecture, and plant conservation. Putnam Fellows work for up to two years as a member of the Arboretum staff, participating and collaborating fully as a member of the research community.
Since 1988, thirty-five scientists have served as Putnam Fellows, many of whom have continued to work with the Arboretum and its scientists as career academics and researchers. Some alumni of the program, like Arnold Arboretum Keeper of the Living Collections Michael Dosmann, have become leaders in the botanical garden community. The program continues to engage the best talent from across the globe and across disciplines. George Putnam will be remembered by succeeding generations of scientists who have advanced their careers—and the world’s understanding of the plant kingdom—through his foresight, generosity, and thirst for knowledge.