Dr. Tom McIlwain, a former director of The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, died Oct. 31. He was 71.
Funeral services for McIlwain are Wednesday, Nov. 7 at First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs, located at 921 Ocean Avenue. Visitation will be at 1 p.m., with funeral to follow at 3 p.m.
A native of Pascagoula, Miss., McIlwain graduated with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and biology, a master’s degree in zoology and a doctorate in zoology, all from Southern Miss. In 1964, he began working as a fishery scientist in the GCRL fisheries program and from 1978-1989, he served as assistant director of fisheries at GCRL, directing a staff of 38 scientific and technical personnel who collected and analyzed fisheries data.
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, McIlwain served as the director of GCRL. In July 1989, he was charged with managing the transition of GCRL from an independent marine laboratory to an integral academic unit within the University of Southern Mississippi. During his tenure as director, the total budget for GCRL went from $5.5 million annually to more than $8 million annually, and its Summer Field Program expanded to 18 courses in diverse areas of the marine sciences in which 62 colleges and universities in the U.S. participated.
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, D.C., 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.
During his career at GCRL and NMFS, McIlwain had a 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.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to an endowment at GCRL in McIlwain’s name by contacting Pam Moeller at 228.818.8847 or The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation at 601.266.5210.