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November 25, 2013

Biology Professor Emeritus Paul Kirk Dies

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Paul W. Kirk Jr., professor emeritus of biology at Old Dominion, died Nov. 16, 2013, in Virginia Beach. He was 82.

Kirk was born in Jacksonville, Fla., the second son to Paul and Rowena Kirk. His childhood was heavily influenced by frequent moves required of his father, who worked for the Seaboard Railroad, resulting in numerous changes in schools throughout his primary and secondary education. This engrained a talent for fact-based reorientation and an appreciation for consistency that came to define his personality.

He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth and attended the Norfolk Division of William and Mary (the predecessor to ODU) and the University of Richmond before enlisting in the U.S. Army, where his talent for science was fostered through service as a medical bacteriologist. After a tour in Europe and an honorable discharge, he returned to the University of Richmond, where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a master's in biology, and met Evelyn Irene Beard. They married in 1958 and remained inseparable thereafter.

Kirk gained admission to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Duke University, where he completed his doctoral thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. in botany. After brief appointments at Western Carolina University, Virginia Tech and North Carolina Wesleyan, in 1971 he joined the faculty of Old Dominion, where he rose to the rank of full professor with tenure, and served as the associate dean for the College of Sciences and Health Professions and graduate program director of biology.

During his time at ODU, he conducted seminal work in hydrocarbon utilization by marine fungi that informed the current understanding of marine ecosystems and biological remediation of oil spills. He edited the first comprehensive study on the Great Dismal Swamp, and became renowned as a passionate lecturer to the undergraduate and graduate students in botany and medical microbiology. He also served as a resource for area physicians, identifying for them ingested mushrooms and providing advice as to their toxicity. He retired from ODU in 1992.

"He was my first contact at ODU and a big encouragement to me," said Lytton Musselman, ODU's Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany. "A master teacher, he always put a lot of work into his classes."

Kirk found beauty, irony and humor in details that most would dismiss, and used these as subjects for poetry, a lifelong hobby. He was remarkable in his ability to reduce complex concepts to their fundamental principles, and in doing so, enrich all who knew him with a better appreciation of life in general.

In addition to his wife, Kirk is survived by his children, Allan and Susan, his daughter-in-law Robin and son-in-law Peter, and his grandchildren Eric, Shannon, Charlotte and Caroline.

A service honoring Kirk's life was held Sunday, Nov. 24, at the Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach. The family requests that memorial donations be made in Kirk's name to the ODU Educational Foundation (http://www.odu.edu/about/support-odu/foundations/educational) for the biological sciences.