Dr. Thomas McIlwain

Tom McIlwain lost his fight with cancer yesterday, October 31st. Tom was such a bright spot for so many here at the Lab and will be greatly missed.

Tom McIlwain



November 1, 2012

Tom McIlwain's funeral services will be held Wednesday November 7th at First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs (921 Ocean Avenue in Ocean Springs). Visitation will be at 1:00 and funeral to follow at 3:00.

The family asks that donations be made in lieu of flowers to Tom's USM/GCRL endowment. If anyone would like to make a donation, please contact Pam Moeller at 228-818-8847 here at the Lab or contact the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation.




Thomas David McIlwain, Ph.D., was born on November 15, 1940, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. At an early age Tom knew that he wanted to be a marine biologist. Following graduation from the Capitol Page School in Washington, DC, in 1958, he enrolled briefly at Mississippi State University but that being too far from salt water transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi to major in biology.  He graduated from USM with a B.S. in Psychology/Biology in 1964 and an M.S. in zoology in 1966. He was awarded a doctorate in Zoology/Computer Science/Statistics from USM in 1978 completing his formal education.

Tom was affiliated with GCRL his entire career.  In 1964, he began working as a fishery scientist in the GCRL fisheries program.  From 1978-1989, Tom served as Assistant Director of Fisheries at GCRL and directed a staff of 38 scientific and technical personnel who collected and analyzed fisheries data, which then were supplied to the Mississippi Marine Conservation Commission for making management decisions.  He served as the GCRL voting representative on the Mississippi Marine Commission on Marine Resources, the state agency that formulated and implemented the marine fishery regulations in Mississippi at that time. 

From 1989-1994, Tom served as the Director of GCRL. In July 1989, McIlwain was charged with managing the transition of GCRL from an independent marine laboratory to an integral academic unit within the University of Southern Mississippi structure.  As Director, he was responsible for and administered a staff of 210 scientific, technical and support personnel, including a senior staff of 22 Ph.D.-level scientists.  During his tenure as Director the total budget for GCRL went from $5.5 million annually to over $8 million annually.  During his tenure as Director, the GCRL Summer Field Program expanded to 18 courses in diverse areas of the marine sciences in which 62 colleges and universities throughout the U.S. participated.  This period also marked the rapid development of marine education programs at Point Cadet aimed at fostering a better understanding and appreciation of the value of the marine environment.

In 1994, McIlwain resigned the directorship and left GCRL for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  As a fisheries administrator he coordinated and tracked the research activities of the NMFS Southeast Science Center in response to the needs of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.  After a stint as a legislative fellow in Washington, DC, he returned to his position at NMFS-Pascagoula until his retirement from federal service in 2003.

McIlwain returned to GCRL in 2003 to coordinate the expansion of facilities for the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center at the Cedar Point site in Ocean Springs.  Those facilities, now mostly complete and operational, make the center one of the top venues for marine aquaculture research in the nation. When completed, the Cedar Point projects will total about $50 million in construction and equipment including the Marine Education Center at Cedar Point that will replace the original education center that was lost to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

During his career at GCRL and NMFS, McIlwain had major impact in several areas of marine research, policy development and management. Prominent among his accomplishments was the establishment of a striped bass fishery along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the development of the MARFIN project to support marine fishery research nationally and the United States Marine Shrimp Farming Program, the major U.S. effort to develop a national program in shrimp aquaculture.

Tom is featured on our Pioneers of the Gulf Coast Research Lab page.