Ion E. Fuhn – Biography

19 March 2014
Fuhn_Family

Ion E. Fuhn was born on 5 February 1916 in Bucharest, in a family of merchants owning a small store on Lipscani street and being one of the providers of the Royal Family.

Ion E. Fuhn’s early passion for learning made him stand out as one of the best pupils of the reputed high school „Spiru Haret” which he graduated in 1933 with the best marks.

He pursued his studies at the Faculty of Philosophy and Law of the University of Bucharest that he graduated in 1938. He completed his PhD degree in 1946 at the same faculty, with the thesis „The Mandatory Force of the International Treaties”.

He worked as a lawyer for 2 years (1944-1946). In 1946, just after finishing his studies, he was appointed Attaché of the Department of State but in autumn 1947, due to the political unrest which led to the founding of the socialist state, he lost his diplomatic position, together with all the assets and belongings of his family.

As he refused to be member of the party, he had to completely change his field of work, from creative to exclusively scientific activities. He had been passionate about the fauna since his very youth, writing articles on the subject since the age of 16. Since 1947, the study of amphibians and reptiles has become the unique profession and passion of the jurist Ion E. Fuhn. He asserted himself with numerous publications considered to be referential both by Romanian and foreign specialists.

He was appointed head of the Natural Sciences department at the Romanian-Soviet Studies Institute in 1947. In 1954, while working as a researcher at the Institute, he met his future wife, Eugenia Simian. They got married and had an only child – a daughter called Iris Ruxandra Fuhn.

In 1890, Iris Ruxandra Fuhn married the Swiss herpetologist Dr Georg Heinrich Thommen, a fervent admirer of Ion E. Fuhn. Dr. Georg Heinrich Thommen-Fuhn died in 2013, but his passion for this field was the legacy he left to one of his two sons, Albert Thommen. He carried on the biologist career, currently being a PhD at the Dresda Univesity.

During 1954-1957, Ion E. Fuhn was an active researcher at the Biology Institute of the Romanian Academy in Bucharest.

Even if he was one of the best Romanian herpetologists, he went through lots of difficult moments in his career, on the pretext of not having finished his studies in the field of biology. He was therefore dismissed in 1958, on the ground of „not being adequate for his position according to his work contract”, even if the very same year he had been appointed main researcher in the Collective Fauna R.P.R. of the Academy by a contest committee. Thus, he was retrograded from the position of main researcher to that of technician. He also went through several litigations with publishing houses and lots of his articles could not be published under his name any more. It was not until 1969, after 11 years, that he was reappointed main researcher.

Despite these harsh times, his activity of research has been confirmed over the time by his affiliation to well-known national and international organizations: the Geography and Natural Sciences Society in R.S.R., the Commission of the Natural Monuments, the Society for Systematic Zoology of the U.S.A., the Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. In1966, he was the first Romanian biologist to be appointed correspondent member of Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft in Frankfurt an Main (Germany), well-known scientific institution dating since 1817.

He brought together a significant collection of specimens gathered both from neighboring areas of Bucharest and different regions of Romania. His collection has been transferred to The National Museum of Natural History „Grigore Antipa” and is still a valuable basis for the study of the variability of amphibians and reptiles in our country. Ion E. Fuhn has been the first Romanian zoologist to grasp that the identification of the species is not enough in herpetology, the analysis and classification of the subspecies also being of great importance.

Even if it was a completely new subject for him, Ion E. Fuhn was asked at one time to deal with the systematics of the Araneae group (Spiders). He managed to research in due time and even to come up with original ideas.

Self-taught zoologist with a vast philological culture, he succeeded to be more than a mere taxonomist, impressing with his culture in zoology even biologists with studies in the field.

Having a thorough philosophical culture and speaking several foreign languages (Romanian, English, French, German), Ion E. Fuhn became part of the translation team of Darwin’s works and worked with screenwriters for short movies as a scientific consultant.

Constantin Kiritzescu, Raul Călinescu and Mihai Băcescu are considered to be the founders of herpetology in our country, having drawn up the first Romanian scientific collections and fauna lists. Their works played an important role in the development of further research in biology, zoogeography and infraspecific systematics of amphibians and reptiles. Yet, we owe Ion E. Fuhn the development of these fields during 1950-1987, given his around 80 scientific works and profile books.

The scholar Ion E. Fuhn passed away on 30 August 1987 after a long lasting suffering caused by asthma.

All this information has been provided by Eugenia Fuhn, the great herpetologist’s wife, who is currently 87 years old. Thank you!

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