David Stoughton Conant, 69, of Barnet, Vt. passed away on Wednesday, June 27, 2018, from injuries sustained while clearing trails in his beloved backwoods, a lifelong project he shared with his wife and something he loved to do.
David was born in Springfield, Vt. on June 17, 1949 to David Perry and Aune (Lepisto) Conant. His childhood was spent alongside the Connecticut River with his father cultivating a love for nature and adventures. He attended Fall Mountain Regional High School followed by the University of New Hampshire receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in botany. He met his future wife, Aminta “Minty” Kitfield in 1973 when he was a teaching assistant in one of her college courses. While at UNH he made his first research venture to Puerto Rico to study tropical tree fern spore dispersal and thus began a lifelong interest in the systematic botany of tropical tree ferns. In 1976, after many more trips to the tropics and equally many lessons in the Spanish language from his friends in Puerto Rico, David graduated from Harvard University with a Ph.D. in Biology, specializing in fern systematics. Shortly after, he and Minty moved to the Northeast Kingdom to live and work. In 1979 David married his soul mate and lifelong partner.
As a professor at Lyndon State College, he taught a variety of different subjects, including botany, genetics, biochemistry, and systematic botany to name a few. Over his 32-year career, he was a recipient of multiple National Science Foundation Grants which enabled him to travel to New Guinea, Borneo, Australia, Central America, Venezuela, and the Caribbean to continue his passionate study of tree ferns. He named several species of tree ferns, including one which he named after his mother and one which he named after his wife.
He spent his sabbatical years working with great colleagues at Mount Holyoke College, Dartmouth College and Duke University. His papers and scientific contributions helped to further the systematic and genetic studies of tree ferns. He was internationally recognized for his work on the ecology and evolution of the scaly tree ferns. He was a pioneer in applying modern molecular techniques to uncovering the unique speciation histories of these tree ferns, focused on the plants that he encountered in his extensive field work in Puerto Rico. He served as President of the New England Botanical Club from 1996-1998 and the American Fern Society from 2004-2006.
After retiring as a professor, he started a business doing excavating projects, Homework Construction. David always enjoyed digging with large equipment. More recently, he shifted his focus to projects on his Barnet property that he and Minty bought in 1978. As a team, Minty and David cleared many fields and built a beautiful network of wood roads connecting their entire property together. David enjoyed skiing, hiking, and botanizing this property with his wife, children, grandchildren, family, and friends. His fondness for dogs made him the favorite of all the family pets. Following his Finnish heritage, David was an avid berry picker and every year spent many hours picking wild raspberries and blackberries.
David also enjoyed bird identification, fishing, playing the banjo with dear friends, and spending time with his four grandchildren, to whom he was lovingly known as Poppy. He did not enjoy being the frequent recipient of weird taxidermy animals, one of the many playful jokes he shared with his three daughters. He and his wife were rarely far apart for very long, and were well on their way to traveling the world together.
David was a supportive, loving, and encouraging husband and father, a naturalist, and an excellent teacher. He particularly enjoyed a good joke, especially his family’s many ongoing inside jokes, some of which have lasted decades. He is greatly missed.
Survivors include his wife of 39 years: Aminta “Minty” Conant of Barnet/St. Johnsbury; three daughters: Snow Burns and husband, Eric, of El Cerrito, Calif.; Caitlin Parikh and husband, Purak, of Brookline, N.H.; and Aminta “Minn” Conant and partner, James Dumont, of El Cerrito, Calif.; a brother: Brian and wife, Irma Conant, of Charlestown, N.H.; a sister: Betsey Clark of Lebanon, Maine; a sister-in law: Connie Conant, and four grandchildren: Calvin Conant Burns, Camille Conant Burns, Maneesh Conant Parikh, and Aminta “Mimi” Conant Parikh.
David was predeceased by his parents: David Perry Conant and Aune Lepisto Conant; a brother: Roger William Conant; and a brother-in-law: Don Clark.
Visiting hours will be held at the family home at 545 Keyser Hill Road, St Johnsbury, Vermont on Tuesday, July 3 from 3-5. All are welcome. A memorial service/celebration of his life will be held at a later date to be determined. This will be announced in the paper.
Memorial donations may be made in David’s name to either the Passumpsic Valle Land Trust, PO Box 624, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819, or to Catamount Arts, 115 Eastern Ave, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819.
Memories and condolences may be shared with the family online at www.saylesfh.com.