Elmer G. Worthley, Md. botanist, dies

Elmer George Worthley, a Maryland botanist whose discoveries around the world bear his name, died of cancer June 19 at his home in Finksburg. He was 80.

Dr. Worthley worked for the U.S. Army for 29 years and retired in 1981 as a civilian research biologist at the Edgewood Arsenal. He also was an adjunct professor and taught a course on taxonomic botany at his home, where he planted thousands of specimen plants under the sponsorship of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.


Although he was interested in all forms of trees, shrubs and flowers, he was particularly fascinated by such plant forms as grasses, mosses, liverworts, fungi and lichens.

Dr. Worthley went to Antarctica in 1959 as part of the Deep Freeze IV expedition, and a mountain there was named for him: Worthley Peak. A moss he found at Machu Picchu in Peru was named Anomobryum worthleyi, and a beetle discovered by a student was named Helops worth leyorum because it, too, was interested in lichens -- as food.


Dr. Worthley had long been interested in science, never forgetting the Latin names of birds he had studied for a Boy Scout merit badge.

In 1978, he appeared on a public television program, "On Nature's Trail," with his wife, Jean, who had also done another nature program, "Hodgepodge Lodge," for about 10 years.

A former president of the Maryland Ornithological Society and the first president of the Horticultural Society of Maryland, he was active in the campaign to preserve the park area of Soldiers Delight near Reisterstown.

He had a library of five rooms filled with books on natural history and poetry, especially that of John Greenleaf Whittier, a fellow native of Amesbury, Mass. Dr. Worthley was a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and held a master's degree from Brown University and a doctorate from the University of Maryland.

In his youth, he not only became an Eagle Scout but an expert bugler, once holding a summer job as staff bugler at a Girl Scout camp near his home town.

He is survived by his wife, the former Jean Reese; four sons, E. George Worthley Jr. of Corpus Christi, Texas, William D. Worthley of Owings Mills, Kimball E. Worthley of Finksburg and Asa Gray Worthley of Wrightsville Beach, N.C.; two daughters, Waiva A. Worthley of Gambier, Ohio, and Heather J. Worthley of Seattle; and two sisters, Dorothy Barron of Braintree, Mass., and Josephine Hinckley of Cumberland Center, Maine.

Arrangements are being made for a memorial service Oct. 5 at the Soldiers Delight Nature Center.

The family suggested memorial donations to the nature center's library through Soldiers Delight Conservation Inc., in care of Fred Goethe, 120 Nicodemus Road, Reisterstown 21136.