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Fall 2009

Faculty Deaths

Sadly, the College of Arts and Sciences lost two stellar faculty members this year — Dr. John O'Brien (biology) and Tom Humphrey (theatre). Read about their remarkable accomplishments below.

Dr. W. John O'Brien, aquatic ecologist and UNCG biology professor, died at his home on Aug. 15, 2009. He is survived by his wife Marion (associate dean for research in Human Environmental Sciences and professor of Human Development and Family Studies), son Connor, and daughters Shay and Lia. John, with Marion, came to UNCG in 2001 from the University of Kansas. He was a central figure in the study of freshwater zooplankton and fish, and a dedicated teacher.

A short summary of his career accomplishments includes publication of nearly 100 journal articles and book chapters, editing a book and training 24 graduate students.

However, such a summary does not do justice to his international reputation among the community of freshwater ecologists. He was also a renowned storyteller, which contributed to his success in teaching, communicating his research and capturing the hearts of his family, friends and colleagues. He is greatly missed.

The W. John O'Brien Award for Ecological Field Research has been created to support graduate students conducting field-based work, a hallmark of his research. Contributions to the endowment fund for this award can be sent to the UNCG Excellence Foundation with the notation, “John O'Brien Award,” in care of Judy Piper (, UNCG Development Office, P.O. Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402.

Thomas W. Humphrey (1950-2009) was head of the Department of Theatre from 2002-07. His UNCG experience followed 17 years (1985-2002) as producing artistic director of The Western Stage in Salinas, Calif. He received a BA in English from Denison University in 1972 and an MFA in directing from the University of California, San Diego in 1981.

Tom taught a range of courses at UNCG, most often in directing and oral interpretation, and served as co-coordinator of the MFA Directing program. He led the department into a relationship with Triad Stage, a professional company where students, faculty and staff work closely with seasoned professionals.

As a director, Tom staged UNCG Theatre productions of “A Piece of My Heart,” “Woody Guthrie's American Song,” “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” “Home,” “O Pioneers!” (which he also adapted), “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” “Measure for Measure” and “The Clean House.”




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