Robert (Bob) Patterson
Founder of MPG
After many years of declining health, Bob Patterson, founder of MPG, passed away on September 28th, 2022. Bob was more that just a friend to me. He was a mentor who would change the direction of my life.
I first made my acquaintance with Bob in 2004. Bob had just launched his "Moth Photographers Group of Eastern North America" website. I had only recently purchased a digital camera. At that time most professional photographers were still shooting with film. BugGuide was not even a year old and iNaturalist would not be off the ground for another 4 years. Bob was so generous with his time. He would eventually ask me to become the editor of MPG, a postion I accepted in 2016. Since then, rarely has a day passed that I don't think of Bob. He was inspiring.
The profound impact this gentleman has had on others cannot be overstated. With the launch of the expanded MPG in January 2005, ordinary people would for the first time in history have access to a catalogue to all the moths of North America north of Mexico. While it can not replace a massive library, MPG has provided countless novice photographers and collectors with the means to get started on their path to moth identification. I fondly recall the thrill of discovering the names on MPG of the moths I would find when I first started my journey. But likewise many experts and professionals have found MPG to be an indispensable tool in their daily lives. In many ways MPG has bridged the gap between amateur and academia. It would not be overreaching to suggest that MPG has played an important role in both the advancement of citizen science and a deepening appreciation in our society for the environment of the world we share.
You can learn more about how Bob got his start in moth photography as well as the roots of MPG on the "About My Hobby" section of his Moths of Prince George's County Maryland website.
Please send me an email with thoughts, memories and photos you would like to share and I will post them on this page.
Bob's son, Bill Patterson, was kind enough to share his father's obituary with MPG:
"On Wednesday, September 28th, 2022, Robert M. Patterson, Sr. passed away at the age of 84. Bob was born April 11, 1938 in New London, Connecticut to Stephen and Helen Patterson. The family moved to Washington, DC in the early 1950's where Bob attended Anacostia High School. He married Mary Jane Nethery in 1956 and they had 5 sons, Robert Jr, William, Richard, Stephen (Scott) and Ronald. They moved to Bowie, Maryland in 1962. Bob and his brother Frank formed the business Belair Home Repair and worked together for many years serving the Bowie area. Mary Jane passed away in 1970 and Bob was later remarried to Bethel L Wilburn. Bob and Beth recently celebrated their 52nd anniversary together. Bob was a man of many passions, chief among them were; golf, bird watching, stamp and National Geographic collecting. Later in life Bob became a computer programmer, worked for and retired from the U.S. Peace Corps. In retirement, Bob studied moths and he created and maintained one of the largest Moth websites in the United States. The website now resides at Mississippi State University. Bob was preceded in death by his first wife Mary Jane and son Ron. He is survived by his wife, Beth, his sons; Robert Jr, William, Richard and Scott, 11 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. Services will be held privately with the family." - Joy Keller (grand daughter)
Donations in Bob's memory may be made to the National Audubon Society.
Steve Nanz (Oct. 3, 2022)
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Patterson. It has been quite a few years now, but I still remember my communications with Bob fondly. I may have had a unique association with Bob, as I never met him in person, but for a while back around the mid 2000s we would sometimes chat online. It started late one night when I - who am a night owl - was looking up moths on the, I believe, fairly young Moth Photographer's Group site. If I remember correctly, there was a place to ask ID questions, and Bob answered right away, surprised that someone was up so late. There was a chat box somehow - online chatting was much more popular back then - and Bob and I chatted about moth photography techniques, our favorite moth species, and the best activity times for moths. I told him about my moth photographs and he suggested that I send them in.
At the time, there was a call for moth photographs on the site, and for those who sent 100 moth photos or more, Bob would send a moth field guide. I sent in my photos, and Bob sent me Charles Covell's Field Guide to the Moths of Eastern North America, my first moth field guide.
We chatted online a few times over the next couple of years when we both happened to be awake and on MPG, but chatting became less popular (fewer places to chat), and Bob cut back on his moth photographing at night. (During our chats, he had told me that his avid moth photographing at night had previously contributed to some health issues.)
I still have some moths represented on the MPG site and even a page that Bob likely set up for my moth photos. I've gotten a few requests for my photos through people seeing them on MPG - with two even published in a (likely rare now) field guide that I luckily have… maybe a small thing, but exciting for me! And most of that and my continued love of moths was due to Bob's encouragement and our shared interest in moth photography and identification.
Bob was a kind and interesting man, and even though we lost touch, I liked knowing that he was out there, still enjoying moths. I will miss that very much.
Lisa Ames, Griffin, Georgia (Jan. 6, 2022)
Without Bob's pioneering work on online moth identification, I probably would not be pursuing an academic career as a moth specialist today. I began photographing insects and identifying them on BugGuide in 2015, and the relative ease of identifying moths from photos was a key factor behind my focusing on the group within a few years. My quantitative survey of the moth fauna of Block Island, the passion project at the center of my interest in moths, would not have been possible at the scale I conducted it without the identification help MPG provides.
Bob had stopped providing identifications on BugGuide by the time I began photographing moths and retired from his work on MPG before I became expert enough as an identifier to contribute to the site as an editor, so I unfortunately never corresponded with him. I nonetheless am deeply indebted to Bob, whose work changed the course of my academic career and provided the foundation upon which so much of what I do is built.
Over the last few years, I have helped Steve improve the taxonomic coverage and accuracy of MPG, which is the central node in the network of websites that aid online identification of Nearctic moths. Digital photography and the internet made possible easy documentation and accurate identification of diverse insect taxa by non-experts. Making that possibility a reality, however, took people with vision and dedication. For North American moths, Bob was that person.
Over the last several years, I've taught myself moth identification (and systematics, ecology, and biology) almost entirely online and through independent fieldwork. I never knew what identifying moths was like before the internet age; MPG has served as a catalogue of the whole moth fauna of North America north of Mexico since I was seven years old. Thanks in no small part to Bob's work, I'm part of the first generation of natively online moth systematists. I have spent a large part of my free time for close to five years improving MPG and other online identification resources. I look forward to seeing them serve as a gateway into moth systematics and ecology for decades to come just as they did for me.
Aaron Hunt, Block Island, RI (Nov. 23, 2022)
Bob was a wonderful resource with a deep knowledge of moths, when I was just learning about them. He was a gentleman and provided 'kind' guidance. Several years later, we were working together on setting up a National Moth Night based on what was being done overseas. We never got to complete it as it was taken from us. Nevertheless, I remember him as a kind and tireless friend who was never too busy to help.
Rich Wolfert, Savannah, GA (Oct. 30, 2022)
I was saddened to hear of Bob Patterson's passing on September 28th. I will miss Bob. I was missing him already since he had become less active the past several years. We collaborated for over a decade with me being an original referee for the tortricidae on the MPG website. I do feel very much remiss for not having taken the time to visit him in Maryland these remaining years
A fitting tribute to Bob is MPG itself. I have always been impressed as to how he was able to stick with an idea and concept and bring it to fruition. Especially such a large and novel undertaking as the Moth Photographers Group website.
The MPG website is now probably the most reliable source for nearctic moth identification on the internet.
As has been said by many Bob was generous and one of the finest men you could have known.
One year, I got to spend some time in the field with Bob and Beth at the Archbold Biological Station in Florida. It will always be one of my most fondest lepidopteran memories
To Bob and Beth and the extended family I want to say "Thank you for sharing".
Michael Sabourin (Oct. 10, 2022)
I interfaced with Bob several times over the years when I got started in moths. He helped with some identifications, ways to accomplish things and provided the format for my website where you started with pictures to find what moth you were looking for. Unlike most sites where you get a list of species and then have to look at each species to see if it is the one you are looking for. I also provided Bob with my moth sightings to update species that are listed for Iowa. Always a gentleman.
Jim Durbin (Oct. 8, 2022)
I went to the Moth Photographers Group web site for the first time in a few days. There I saw the news of the passing of Bob Patterson. It was Bob who created the web site that has become such a valuable resource and portal to information on moths. I communicated with him a bit back in those early days some 20 years ago, making my pictures available to the fledgling site. But Bob did so much more, assembling a network of experts to help grow the web site and improve the reliability of identifications. One could argue that he helped grow the citizen science of moths, at a time when the advent of digital photography and the Internet came together to make possible identifications more easily than could be possible from the few books that existed. Bob was himself an avid moth-er, in those days gathering up many great records at his Maryland home.
Steve Walter (Oct. 4, 2022)