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Paul Homsher, Emeritus Professor of Biology, Dies

Photo of Paul HomsherPaul Homsher

Paul J. Homsher, an Old Dominion University professor emeritus of biological sciences whose research specialties were in genetics and reproductive biology, died in Virginia Beach on May 25, 2014, from complications related to pancreatic cancer. He was 83.

Homsher joined ODU in 1962 and during his 35 years on the active faculty he was acting director and director of the Biomedical Sciences Program (1978-82) operated jointly by ODU and Eastern Virginia Medical School, associate dean of the School of Sciences and Health Professions (1985-1986), associate dean of the College of Sciences (1986-91) and interim dean of the College of Sciences (1991-93).

After his retirement, he frequently returned to campus to teach as an adjunct, and to participate in meetings and activities of the Faculty Emeriti Association and Friends of Old Dominion University Libraries. He served as president of the emeriti organization and was a life member and director of the Friends of the Library.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Judy, son Michael and daughter Christine H. McCannon of Raleigh, N.C., daughter Mari Harris of Virginia Beach, grandsons Steven and Ryan Homsher of Raleigh, granddaughters Elena and Abbey Harris and Courtney Wright of Virginia Beach, step-granddaughter Angie McCannon and step-granddaughter Gigi McCannon of Raleigh. A foster daughter, Gina Farmer, resides in Mechanicsville, Va. He is also survived by his older sister, Dottie, three nieces, a nephew and their families in Pennsylvania.

Homsher is remembered by colleagues as uncommonly genial, helpful and hardworking.

"Paul was one of the first people I met when I arrived at ODU 20 years ago," said ODU President John R. Broderick. "I was always impressed with his enthusiasm and amazing sense of humor. In my six-plus years as president, rarely a month went by where I would not get a call from Paul saying something positive about what we are doing at ODU. My heart goes out to Judy and his family. He was a positive influence on many lives during his time at the university, including mine."

Added James V. Koch, ODU president emeritus and Board of Visitors Professor of Economics, "Paul Homsher was a great guy, a truly committed scientist (he was instructing his nurses about blood types only a couple of weeks ago), and an irrepressible comic. He'll be missed by all."

Gerald J. "Jerry" Pepe, the EVMS chair of physiological sciences and former dean of the school, called Homsher "a good friend, a good colleague and a good promoter of joint programs" between EVMS and ODU. Pepe said that even after he retired Homsher would arrange meetings between EVMS and ODU faculty members who might be able to conduct collaborative research.

At ODU, Harold G. Marshall, professor emeritus and Eminent Scholar in biological sciences, recalled that "soon after joining the faculty, Paul established the genetic component of the departmental offerings, which continues to be a major area of interest for our students." Marshall added, "He was an excellent and conscientious teacher, appreciated by students. After retirement, he felt fortunate to witness development of the university he contributed so much of his life to. We shared a friendship of over 50 years; he will be sincerely missed, but not forgotten."

Homsher was born May 17, 1931, in Philadelphia. His bachelor's degree in chemistry and physics, master's in botany and Ph.D. in genetics were from Penn State University. Before joining ODU, he served teaching and research assistantships at Penn State and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Between the time Homsher finished his undergraduate studies and before he returned to Penn State for graduate studies, he served from 1953-56 as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Two decades later, while on the ODU faculty, he was recruited by the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 3 in Cairo, Egypt, to work on as a senior research investigator with world-renowned tick researcher Galila Khalil.

Some of Homsher's most important research involved efforts to disrupt the mating and reproductive processes of ticks in order to protect animals and humans from diseases carried by ticks. A frequent collaborator was Daniel Sonenshine, the ODU professor emeritus and Eminent Scholar in biological sciences who joined the faculty in 1961 and went on to author the seminal two-volume text, "The Biology of Ticks."

While in Egypt, Homsher worked with Sonenshine to guide and support Egyptian scientists doing research that led to development of strategies to mitigate tick-borne diseases affecting Egyptian livestock.

In 1975, Homsher received the Distinguished Faculty Award given by the ODU chapter of Alpha Chi national scholastic honor society.

The family will receive friends on Saturday, June 7 at 10:30 a.m. at Altmeyer Funeral Home, 5792 Greenwich Rd., Virginia Beach, with services to begin at 11:30 a.m. A reception will follow the service. Cremation Society of Virginia is assisting the family in all arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to The Homsher Family Lecture Series Endowment at ODU.

ODU administrators are planning a separate memorial service on campus, but will announce the time and place for it later. The Homsher family has requested that the university service be held after the fall 2014 semester begins.

Expressions of sympathy should be addressed to: Judith Homsher, 4433 Ironwood Dr., Virginia Beach, Va. 23462.