February 25, 2012
Bill Geer, Clara A. Abbott Professor Emeritus of Biology at Knox College, died Friday, February 24 in the Knox County Nursing Home. He was 76. Internationally renowned for his research on the genetics of the fruit fly, Geer taught biology at Knox College from 1963 until his retirement in 2000.
"His career at Knox spanned nearly four decades," said Knox President Teresa Amott. "We will greatly miss his generosity of spirit, his passion for teaching, and his dedication to the liberal arts."
Geer's "Fly Lab" at Knox is credited with research that explored metabolism, nutrition and reproduction in Drosophila melanogaster. His lab was awarded grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. In particular, his study of the dietary and genetic control of alcohol metabolism in fruit flies received research grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Geer wrote dozens of scientific papers, including a number co-authored with Knox students and colleagues, as well as with collaborators from research facilities around the world. Geer and two of his students, Rebecca Swanson and Anthony Dunn, wrote a history of the sciences at Knox that was published in 1997.
In addition to his teaching and research at Knox, Geer held visiting appointments at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Oregon State University, Utah State University, University of Calgary in Canada, and Monash University in Australia.
From 1979 to 1984 Geer was coordinator of the Knox-Rush Medical Program and Professor of Pharmacology at Rush Medical College in Chicago. Geer emphasized the importance of research in the liberal arts science curriculum -- half of the students who worked in his lab as Knox undergraduates went on to medical school, and another one-third completed graduate or professional degrees.
The Bill Geer Research Fund was created by gifts from Knox alumni, spearheaded by some of his former students, on the occasion of his retirement in 2000. In 2000 and again in 2009, a number of Geer's former students offered reminiscences of their experiences working in Geer's lab.
Among Geer's many honors were an honorary doctorate from Knox College in 2009, a 1995 Shannon Award from the National Institutes of Health, 1995 election as a Fellow of the Illinois Academy of Science, 1991 Alumni Citation for Excellence from the University of California at Davis, 1990 Illinois Professor of the Year Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, 1986 Burlington Northern Foundation Faculty Achievement Award, and a 1985 Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship for study at Monash University in Australia.
A graduate of Northwest Missouri State University, Geer received his master's degree from the University of Nebraska and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis.
Geer was born July 6, 1935 on the family farm in Coin, Iowa, the son of William E. and Lena G. (Griffin) Geer. He married Judith A. Matthews on August 10, 1957 in Halls, Mo. He is survived by his wife Judy; three children, Susan (and D.K. Komlosi) Geer of La Grande, Ore., Kurt (and Carlene Thomas) Geer of Indian Harbor Beach, Fla., and Kelly Geer of Galesburg; his twin sister, Betty Breeden of Elko, Nev.; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and three sisters.
A memorial service will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 31, 2012 in the First United Methodist Church, Mary Runge officiatinge. A time for fellowship will be offered following the service at the church. Private burial will be in Hope Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to First United Methodist Church, the Bill Geer Research Fund at Knox College, or Guardian Angels Humane Society. Hinchliff-Pearson-West Funeral Directors and Cremation Service is in charge of arrangements. Online condolences may be made at www.h-p-w.com.