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Richard H. Goodwin, 96; led Nature Conservancy

Richard Goodwin led efforts to save thousands of acres of open space across the United States. Richard Goodwin led efforts to save thousands of acres of open space across the United States. (file/connecticut college)

NEW YORK -- Richard H. Goodwin, a botanist who as national president of the Nature Conservancy in the late 1950s and mid-'60s helped preserve thousands of acres of open space on both coasts, including 1,100 acres around the farm where he lived in East Haddam, Conn., died July 6 in East Lyme, Conn. He was 96.

The death was confirmed by his son, Richard Goodwin Jr.

Dr. Goodwin, the Katharine Blunt professor emeritus of botany at Connecticut College in New London, was president of the Nature Conservancy from 1956 to 1958 and again from 1964 to 1966. The conservancy, a nonprofit organization, was started in 1951, and Dr. Goodwin was one of its founders. Since then, it has protected 15 million acres of land in the United States and 102 million acres in 29 other countries.

In 1959, Dr. Goodwin helped negotiate the preservation of 3,000 acres of forest along the coast of northern California, which at the time was the largest land-trust deal in the organization's history. A year later, he started the conservancy's Connecticut chapter, became its first chairman, and opened the Burnham Brook Preserve, a swath of woods, fields, streams, and rocky outcrops in southeastern East Haddam.

The preserve, which began with a donation of 46 acres of farmland owned by Dr. Goodwin and his wife, the former Esther Bemis, now covers 1,100 acres, most of them acquired by the conservancy through Dr. Goodwin's efforts.

More than 100 types of trees, shrubs, and vines grow there, as well as more than 400 varieties of flowering plants. Creatures abound, too.

"We have on the preserve half of all the species of amphibians and reptiles that you can find in the state," Dr. Goodwin told The New York Times in a 1991 interview. "And we've seen more than 180 species of birds." The remainder of the 160-acre Goodwin property will be donated to the preserve.

Richard Hale Goodwin was born in Brookline, Mass., on Dec. 14, 1910, the only child of Harry M. Goodwin and Mary Blanchard Linder Goodwin. His father was the dean of graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Goodwin became fascinated with wilderness and wildlife when he joined the Boy Scouts and started what became an extensive collection of insects, his son said.

Besides his son, of Cabin John, Md., and his wife, whom he married in 1936, Dr. Goodwin leaves a daughter, Mary Goodwin Wetze of Lake Quivira, Kan.; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Dr. Goodwin earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1933, a master's degree in 1934 and a doctorate, with a concentration in botany, in 1937, all from Harvard. He was chairman of the botany department at Connecticut College from 1944 to 1976.

He was also director of the Connecticut College Arboretum until 1965. The current arboretum director, Glenn D. Dreyer, said Dr. Goodwin had increased the land preserved by the college to 450 acres from 90 and turned it into a site for research and teaching.

"In the early '50s, he and William Niering, his colleague in the botany department, marked out four strips through the forest that are 20 feet wide," Dreyer said. "A very accurate accounting of what lives and dies is done every 10 years, determining how fast things grow in a forest that is as free as possible from human disturbance."

For decades at the Burnham Brook Preserve, Dr. Goodwin and his wife kept a journal of plant life and conducted bird censuses. His students mapped differences in the growth of vegetation on the slopes of a ravine.

"You hear about the enormous complexity of the tropical forest, but even this place in our backyard is highly complex," Dr. Goodwin said in the 1991 interview, a few days after spotting a flower that had never before been seen in the preserve. "There it is," he said, "a ragged fringed lily."