Giles Mead, 75; Oversaw Growth of County Natural History Museum

From a Times Staff Writer

Giles Mead, the director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum during the 1970s, has died. Mead, who was 75 and had recently undergone surgery, died Feb. 13 at the family-owned Mead Ranch in the Napa Valley.

During his tenure at the museum, an $8.5-million wing was built and the adjunct George C. Page Museum was opened at the La Brea Tar Pits. Mead resigned in 1978 to return to the ranch, a 1,300-acre zinfandel and cabernet grape-growing spread near Napa that has been in the family since 1913.

Several years before his resignation, Mead said, “I would like to know ... that I’ve turned the museum loose in better shape than when I found it. But I feel no need to build a personal monument. I’ll be proud of myself if I leave behind a pack of kids who have strong backs and something in their heads.”


Mead was born Feb. 5, 1928, in New York City to Elise and Giles W. Mead; his father was a co-founder of Union Carbide and Carbon Co., a chemical industrial giant. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1935.

The younger Mead received a doctorate in ichthyology from Stanford University and began his career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as laboratory director in charge of fish taxonomy, working at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. In the 1960s, he was curator of fishes at the Museum of Comparative Zoology and a professor of biology at Harvard. He participated in many oceanographic expeditions.

In Napa Valley, Mead was active in land and resource conservation issues. Mead Ranch was placed under a conservation easement, which protects it as a environmental habitat, in 1990.

Mead, who married and divorced three times, is survived by three daughters, Parry Mead Murray and Jane Mead, both of Napa, and Gale Mead of San Diego; two sons, Whit of Phoenix and Richie of Petaluma, Calif.; six grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

A memorial gathering will be held at 2 p.m. March 29 at the ranch.