Gardening 10

Tom Keck Scott

August 4, 1931 ~ March 25, 2024 (age 92) 92 Years Old

Tom Scott Obituary

Dr. Tom K. Scott, a groundbreaking scientist whose life was filled with a love of his family and university, died peacefully March 25 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Dr. Scott was born Aug. 4, 1931, in St. Louis, Mo., the youngest of three sons to George Drake Scott and Mary Ann (Keck) Scott. He was raised in East Hampton, N.Y., but finished his secondary schooling at the Thacher School in Ojai, Calif.

He attended Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., where he earned an A.B. in Botany in 1954. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army Reserve and Chemical Corps, he went back to school, receiving an M.A. and Ph.D. in biological sciences at Stanford University.

That launched Dr. Scott’s long and distinguished career in academia and beyond, where he would become one of the world’s leading experts in his field of plant physiology -- specifically the growth development and hormone translocation in higher plants, phytohormones and gravitational plant biology.

After leaving Stanford, Dr. Scott did postdoctoral work at Princeton University, then went to Oberlin College as an assistant and associate professor from 1963-67.

In 1969, he moved his family to Chapel Hill, where he remained for the rest of his career as an impactful faculty member at the University of North Carolina. In 1972, he was named chair of the Botany Department, a position he held until 1982.

He branched out into several other areas while doing his work in his chosen field at UNC. He was also chair of the university’s Biology Curriculum from 1970-75 and director of Research Services from 1985-1991.

In 1994, he began work as NASA’s director of space biology, a position he held for 15 years. He commuted on a weekly basis from Chapel Hill to Crystal City, Va., for several years. If you wanted to know how plant seedlings would react and grow in zero gravity, Dr. Scott was your man.

He published his findings in books, including Plant Regulation and World Agriculture (1979); The Functions of Hormones from the Level of the Cell to the Whole Plant (1984); Plant Gravitational and Space Research (1984, with T.W. Halstead).

Thanks to fellowships and sabbaticals that he was awarded, the Scott family was able to live overseas on two occasions. Once in England, where he worked at the University of Nottingham in 1967-68, and in Turkey, at Ege University in Izmir as a Fulbright-Hays Senior Lecturer in 1972-73.

The year in Turkey began with the purchase of a Carolina blue Volkswagen van in London, and a two-week drive with the family through Europe to Izmir.

He was committed to passing down his expertise as a mentor to graduate students. Those who came from overseas would often be invited to Thanksgiving dinner. “If he hadn’t been a scientist, he would have been a great diplomat,” his daughter Cynny Scott said.

Dr. Scott retired from UNC in 2001. In his retirement he traveled the world with his wife Margaret, more often than not following their passion of birding. He was a member of the National Audubon Society and served on the board and was a volunteer at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, where a plant pavilion is named in his and Margaret’s honor. He was active at the Highlands Biological Station in the N.C. mountains. He was also a hospice care volunteer.

He loved the outdoors and was quite an athlete. He ran track at Pomona, even competing in the 100-yard dash in the Rose Bowl. He climbed the Grand Teton Mountain peak while in college. He played in a faculty ice hockey league during his years at Oberlin. He could toss a Frisbee with the best of them. He was part of decades-long doubles tennis groups at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club and The Farm, UNC’s faculty club. He also became a skilled potter during his years living at Carolina Meadows in Chapel Hill.

“Grandpa Tee” had a “goofy” sense of humor, as described by one of his grandchildren. You knew he was around by his distinctive whistle that could be heard from seemingly miles away.

He loved attending his kids’ activities back in the day, honking the car horn when a goal was scored during Rainbow Soccer games or yelling “Go big Blue!” during little league football games. And he loved the UNC Tar Heels.   

Dr. Scott is survived by his wife Margaret; former wife Hattie Warner of Chapel Hill, N.C., and their children David (Mary Hart Scott) of Smyrna, Ga., Steve Scott (Ellen Pautler) of Chapel Hill, N.C., John (Melissa Loggins) of Granite Falls, N.C., and Cynny Scott (Rich Beckman) of Tucson, Ariz.; grandchildren Kelly Scott of Atlanta, Ga., Nick Scott (Kathryn Scott) of Atlanta, Ga., Sean Scott of Durham, N.C., Claire Scott of Austin, Tex., Simmons Scott of Granite Falls, N.C., Mary Elizabeth Bultemeier of Miami, Fla., and several nieces and nephews.

Great grandpa Tee was fortunate enough to meet his great grandchildren Olivia, Madeleine and Luna over the last few years and days.

In lieu of flowers, please send a gift to the North Carolina Botanical Garden in honor of Dr. Scott:

A celebration of Dr. Scott’s life will be held at 2 p.m., April 22 at the North Carolina Botanical Garden,100 Old Mason Farm Rd., Chapel Hill, N.C.

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Celebration of Life
April 22, 2024

2:00 PM
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Mason Farm Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27514


North Carolina Botanical Garden
PO Box 309 919-537-3818, Chapel Hill NC 27514-0309
Tel: 1-919-537-3818


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