Robert “Bob” DeMars, Professor Emeritus, dies at 95

Robert “Bob” DeMars

Shortly before Thanksgiving of 2023, Robert “Bob” DeMars passed away peacefully at age 95.

Bob joined the Department of Medical Genetics (School of Medicine and Public Health) in 1959, where he stayed until retiring in 1997. He subsequently also joined the Departments of Genetics (College of Agricultural Sciences) and Human Oncology (SMPH). After administrative retirement at age 65, Bob became Emeritus in a variety of roles across different campus departments until 2014. He was an esteemed member of our community and a friend to many.

Bob was an accomplished scientist and pioneered the use of cultured cells to study human genetics. He worked on X-chromosome regulation, analyzed several biochemical disorders, and developed powerful methods for studying mutation in cultured cells. He was also an excellent instructor, awarded the “Hilldale Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research in the Biological Sciences” and named the “Tracy M. Sonneborn Professor of Medical Genetics, Genetics and Human Oncology.” He taught “General Genetics” to undergraduates, “Medical Genetics” to medical students and created new courses such as “Somatic Cell and Molecular Genetics” and “Genetics of Cancer”. Even after retiring, he continued to carry out research, turning his attention to the genetics of Chlamydia. More information on Bob’s life story, including his humble beginnings in New York City, his pioneering studies of human genetics in cell lines and contribution to clinical genetics in Wisconsin, his landmark paper on Chlamydia genetic transmission at age 80, and his passion, together with his wife, for birds and nature, can be found at the Wisconsin State Journal obituary and through the Cress Funeral Home webpage.

In honor of Bob’s impact, Dr. Paula Kavathas previously created the Robert and Ann DeMars Lecture in Genetics Fund, which supports special lectures from visiting speakers. The fund sponsored a celebration of Bob’s career and birthday earlier this year.

We are grateful to have known Bob as a scientist, instructor, and especially as a person. He will be greatly missed, and we extend our sympathies to all who shared a part of their life with him.

Bob was preceded in death by his parents, brother, and sister. He is survived by children: Matthew (Elsy), Adam (Jill), Amy (Rich), and Mark; by grandchildren: Christina, Logan and Heather; and great-grandchild, Josef.

A celebration of Bob’s life will be planned for Spring of 2024. Suggested memorial donations may be made to the Madison Public Schools Foundation, Robert and Ann DeMars Lecture in Genetics Fund, or Badgerland Bird Alliance.