Obituary: David L. Kirk, professor emeritus of biology, ISP faculty fellow, 84

David Kirk

David L. Kirk, professor emeritus of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, at Dougherty Ferry Assisted Living in St. Louis after a long illness. He was 84.

Kirk, who was an active and passionate member of the university community for nearly 50 years, spent a lifetime teaching developmental biology and researching the evolutionary origins of multicellular organisms. He was internationally known for his research on the spherical green alga known as Volvox carteri.

Kirk joined the biology faculty as an assistant professor in 1969, becoming a full professor in 1979. He served as acting dean of the Graduate School in 1979-1980.

In retirement, he worked to advance K-12 science education by improving the way evolution is taught in schools. For years, he was involved with the university’s Institute for School Partnership (ISP), and its precursor, Science Outreach.

He served as a faculty fellow for the ISP, committing not only his time but his money. He supplied books for the ISP’s evolution education book club and facilitated the discussion groups. He also helped lead the annual Darwin Day celebration, and he funded the David and Marilyn Kirk Teacher Fellowship, which supports a local leader in evolution education.

“He is an irreplaceable friend and colleague, and an intellectual tour de force, whose loss leaves an enormous hole,” said Victoria L. May, ISP’s executive director. “David will be remembered as a dedicated mentor to a huge number of school teachers in the St. Louis area, giving freely of his time, advice and expertise.”

Heather Essig, who teaches sixth-grade science and AP biology at Visitation Academy and is a former ISP Kirk Teacher Fellow, said hundreds of students in the St. Louis area have been enriched by programs Kirk supported.

“Schools throughout St. Louis owe him a great debt for enriching evolution education in many schools by helping teachers explore current advances in evolution science. Because of his efforts, teachers have engaged countless budding scientists,” Essig said.

Kirk’s passion for science education continued up until his death. He was awarded the 2018 Science Educator Award by the Academy of Science-St. Louis.

Kirk earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature at Northeastern University in 1956 and a master’s in biochemistry and a doctoral degree in biochemistry and physiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1959 and 1961, respectively.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Marilyn M. Kirk, research associate in biology in Arts & Sciences from 1971-1995 and a lecturer in biology in 1972 and 1974. He is survived by a son, Randolph Kirk, of Flagstaff, Ariz.

Learn more about David Kirk in this ISP profile, published in January 2017.

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