Paul W. Kirk Jr. (1931 - 2013)

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Paul W. Kirk Jr.

Virginia Beach - Paul W. Kirk Jr., Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Biology, Old Dominion University was born in Jacksonville, Florida on February 23, 1931, 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. Though often a new student in unfamiliar surroundings, he nevertheless was elected as the Lieutenant Governor for the Virginia Hi Y Model General Assembly prior to graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth. Thereafter, Paul attended the Norfolk Division of William and Mary (the predecessor to Old Dominion University) and the University of Richmond, but withdrew due to a battle with mental illness that required prolonged hospitalization. He emerged from this time with analytical control that he would never relinquish. He enlisted in the United States 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 Bachelor and Master of Science degrees, and met Evelyn Irene Beard. Evelyn and Paul married in 1958 and remained inseparable thereafter. Paul gained admission to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Duke University where he completed his doctoral thesis and was awarded a PhD in Botany. After brief appointments at Western Carolina University, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina Wesleyan, he was recruited to the faculty of Old Dominion University, 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. Paul died on November 16, 2013, and is survived by his wife, Evelyn, his children, Allan and Susan, his daughter-in-law Robin and son-in-law Peter, and his grandchildren Eric, Shannon, Charlotte, and Caroline. Paul's defining trait was his ability to recognize the consistency of the natural world and help others to do the same. The reliability of biology gave him comfort and fostered a resilient optimism- the type that allows one to give an oak tree sapling as an anniversary present, then watch it grow to dominate the back yard. He 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. Students and collaborators gained foundational insights into the adaptive capacity and vital importance of marine fungi, and through this a greater understanding of the global ecology. His children learned not only that grass is green because of chlorophyll, and stars twinkle due to atmospheric convection, but that all the world has order and direction, and by knowing this, they could never be lost. Most importantly, all who knew Paul, and his unwavering devotion to Evelyn, were given the comfort of knowing that love can be as real, consistent and reliable as any element on the periodic table. In that truth, they received the comfort of understanding that the world is a more ordered place than it sometimes appears, and is infinitely worth exploring. A service honoring the life of Paul W. Kirk, Jr. will take place 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 24, at the Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church, 2020 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach, Virginia. A reception will follow in the parish hall. The family requests that memorial donations be made in Paul's name to the Old Dominion University Educational Foundation for the Biological Sciences.
Published in The Virginian Pilot on Nov. 20, 2013
Paul Kirk,
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4889 Princess Anne Road | Virginia Beach, VA 23462 | (757) 490-2727
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