Robert S. Desowitz
Dr. Robert Schaen Desowitz, 82, died Monday, March 24, 2008, at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, Pinehurst.
A memorial service will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 2, at the Holly Inn, Pinehurst. The family requests that guests do not bring flowers or gifts to the service.
Dr. Desowitz was born Jan. 2, 1926, in New York, a son of the late Charles Desowitz and Bertha Schaen. After graduating from Niagara Falls High School, Niagara Falls, N.Y., Dr. Desowitz graduated cum laude from the University of Buffalo, receiving a bachelor's degree.
He then served in the U.S. Army from 1944-1946. He was a veteran of World War II, and was given the American Campaign Medal for Good Conduct and a World War II victory medal.
After his discharge from military service, Dr. Desowitz's educational aspirations took him to the University of London, School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, London, where in 1951, he received a double-doctorate degree in parasitology and medical microbiology. Simultaneously, he was inducted as a fellow into the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. In 1961, Dr. Desowitz received the highest academic degree -- a DSc in parasitology -- from the University of London.
From 1951-1960, Dr. Desowitz entered the British Foreign Service and was the principal science officer and head of the protozoology section at the West African Institute, Vom, Nigeria, concentrating on trypanosomiasis research.
From 1960-1965, he was chair of medical parasitology at the University of Singapore School of Medicine. From 1965-1968, he was chief of SEATO Laboratory's Department of Parasitology, Bangkok, Thailand.
From 1968-1995, Dr. Desowitz was a professor of tropical medicine and medical microbiology at the University of Hawaii, John A. Burns School of Medicine and the School of Public Health. While there, he was appointed to the National Academy of Science's Commission on the effects of herbicides in Vietnam to study the effects of Agent Orange upon the local populations, doing important research on the connection between Agent Orange and infectious diseases.
Upon his retirement to Pinehurst in 1995, Dr. Desowitz was named a professor emeritus for his distinguished tenure at the University of Hawaii. Thereafter, he was an adjunct professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The author of an award-winning textbook in medical parasitology, Ova and Parasites, Dr. Desowitz was also a renowned writer of science books for the general public. His books include "New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers" (1981), "The Thorn and the Starfish" (1987), "The Malaria Capers" (1991), "Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria" (1997), and "Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: Tales of Parasites, People, and Politics" (2004).
Dr. Desowitz's career as a scientist was both long and distinguished, as obvious in his achievements in the arena of infectious diseases and public health. He was honored twice as a resident scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation Centre, Bellagio, Italy. He was a senior exchange fellow for the World Health Organization, a Fulbright Scholar and a Senior Fogarty Fellow at the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Desowitz conducted vital research on tropical diseases throughout the world, helping thousands of victims from Samoa to Papua New Guinea to Africa. He was the founding father and lifelong member of the Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine in 1964. Among Dr. Desowitz's other honors were a freshwater clam, named Hyriopsis Limnoscapha desowitzi, and found in the rivers of Vietnam, was named after him, as well as an animal parasite, Trypanasoma desowitzi. According to Dr. Louis Miller, chief of NIH's Malaria Vaccine Development Branch, Dr. Desowitz's great contribution to the field of tropical medicine was adapting the parasite Trypanosoma Vivax to the rat, so that scientists could effectively do research on the killer disease.
In his last year, Dr. Desowitz was the keynote speaker at the joint meeting of the Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine and the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the Society of Parasitology, Denver, where he delivered his lecture, "America the Malarious"; and the Pathology Grand Rounds Lecture Series, University of Vermont, School of Medicine.
Dr. Desowitz is survived by his wife of 39 years, Carrolee; a daughter Duba Desowitz Leibell; a son, Gregory Desowitz; and four grandsons, Brandon Charles Desowitz-Leibell, Zachary James Taylor Desowitz-Leibell, Robert Gregory Desowitz and Charles Michael Desowitz.
Boles Funeral Home, Southern Pines, is assisting the family.
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