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Colleagues Remember Barthalmus

Dr. George Barthalmus, a longtime professor of zoology and biology who taught thousands of students and was a passionate advocate for undergraduate research, died last night.

Friends, colleagues and former students said no one embodied the ideals of NC State and its mission as a land-grant university better than Barthalmus.

“He was the epitome of everything from teacher to friend to mentor,” said Dr. Anita Flick, director of the Health Professions Advising Center and a former student. “He bled this university about as much as anybody could.”

Flick said Barthalmus, who came to NC State in 1970 as an assistant professor of zoology, had the ability to convey complex information in introductory biology and zoology classes in a way that was clear and relevant.

“He gave me an opportunity as a student to grow and develop my own ideas, while also teaching me at the same time,” Flick said.

A Mile a Minute

Barthalmus became a full professor in 1984 and was named an NC State alumni distinguished undergraduate professor in 1993. In 1998, he became associate dean and director of academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Barthalmus retired in 2001, but later came back to the university as interim director of the University Honors Program and then director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

A casual Barthalmus teaching biology in the 1970s.

Dr. Roger Callanan, assistant dean of undergraduate academic programs, said Barthalmus was an extraordinary adviser and friend to students. Barthalmus taught an estimated 16,000 students during his years at NC State.

“He lived his life so full,” Callanan said. “Every day he had a smile. Every day he had a project. He was one of those people who moved a mile a minute. You couldn’t help but be excited and dedicated in his presence.”

Barthalmus often talked about the importance of NC State remaining true to its mission as a land-grant university, particularly when it came to reaching out to students in rural areas who might not have the same high school academic opportunities as students from urban areas with more resources.

“It would be a shame to see a North Carolina student interested in poultry science have to go to Arkansas because he couldn’t get into NC State with an SAT score of 1,000,” Barthalmus said in a 2001 profile in NC State magazine. “I’m afraid—if we have fewer and fewer rural students—that curricula such as poultry science, food science, agronomy, soil science and crop science will fade away.”

Big Hair, Big Smile

Karl Smith a Raleigh dentist, said Barthalmus was one of the best teachers he had at NC State. He recalled Barthalmus showing up for class with his motorcycle helmet, a big head of hair and his ever-present smile.

“I had him for vertebrate biology,” Smith said. “That can be really monotonous. You’re basically studying the innards of animals. But he would  bring the animals to life that he was describing, and tell you why you were learning a particular thing.”

Administrators who worked with Barthalmus said he was a powerful advocate for students and undergraduate research.

“George thought the university was here to help everybody,” said Dr. John Ambrose, dean of the Division of Undergraduate Academic Programs. “Anybody that came to him, he was willing to work with them. He reached out to any student who was interested in doing research.”

Dr. Ken Esbenshade, associate dean and director of academic programs in CALS, said Barthalmus had been helped by a mentor when he was a student and always looked for opportunities to serve in that role for students at NC State.

“He was student-centered in everything he did,” he said.

Barthalmus and his wife, Marina, established a scholarship fund.

An Inspiration to Students

Dr. Judy Day, who worked with Barthalmus as assistant director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, said Barthalmus helped students realize their potential. She said students would leave excited about new opportunities after meeting with him .

Day recalled the last email she received from Barthalmus, earlier this week, asking about funding for a student research project.

“That was his passion,” she said.

Barthalmus also wrote murder-mystery novels set on college campuses. The proceeds from his books supported the George T. and Marina T. Barthalmus Life Sciences Scholarship Endowment.

“George was a huge proponent of students,” Day said. “The entire university is going to miss his driving force.”

Responses (21 Comments)

  • John Gadsby

    What an incredible loss to this university! At least memories of his kind, personable nature and his smile will always be with us. He had an enormous impact on so many students during his time with us, and he will be sorely missed. Rest in peace George, and God Bless You.

  • George served as an wonderful advocate for encouraging undergraduate research by our students. He understand a fundamental truth of good pedagogy–students learn by doing, not by listening passively and memorizing. Thus he engaged students in the real stuff of our academic disciplines, letting them get their hands dirty, make mistakes, and learn–just as their professors do. His leadership, wisdom, and smile will be sorely missed.

  • Marilee Bresciani

    My heart is made heavy with this news. The light George’s smile and energizing personality brought to a room will be missed. He even had the gift to convey his joy through email. I pledge to have his spirit live on as I aspire to role model his enthusiasm and joy in all that i do and say. Here is to George! Opa! – my best, Marilee

  • Steve Washburn

    My interactions with George were mostly through mentoring undergraduate student research projects. George’s enthusiasm and support of both students and their mentors was inspirational.

  • Janice Odom

    NCSU without George Barthalmus?
    We are infinitely richer for his life, incredibly poorer for his passing.

  • Andrea Irby

    George was inspirational. He lived life to the fullest, gave it and us his all and never stopped believing in his students, his colleagues and his university. His passion is something we all need to embrace and carry on. With it, and what he taught us, we can do anything. We just have to try to do it as well as he did. It will be tough. He was an incredible, wonderful, great person.

  • Kimberly Chappell

    Dr. Barthalmus was one of my favorite teachers of all time. I recall with fondness his vertebrate zoology course. It was one of the most challenging courses of my undergraduate career, and at the same time one that I most enjoyed. Every lecture was delivered with enthusiasm, passion, and humor. And, he took the time to listen and guide the students along the way.

    I now find myself embarking on a new career in academia. I hope that I can infuse some of that same enthusiasm, passion, and humor into my teaching. I am eternally grateful to have experienced such a wonderful example in Dr. George Barthalmus.

    My heart goes out to his family at this very difficult time. I hope they know how many people are forever touched by him.

  • Marcy Bullock

    George was an individual you feel blessed to have known. He brought energy and enthusiasm for everything he did and always said, “We’re really livin now!” a motto that will forever remind me of his positive attitude and love of life. He was the kind of person you would hug each time you saw him because he brought out the human side of you in a professional setting, yet he pushed you to reach higher. Everything a person would want to be remembered for when they leave the planet was embodied in this kind soul and I was so fortunate to have him not only be my boss but a role model and friend.

  • This university has suffered a great loss as have our students – George for so many was a symbol of this university’s past – present and – future –

    For me – like so many other NCSU alumni – he had an instrumental force in inspiring us and giving us the confidence to reach for the stars – having worked in his UG research laboratory for 3 years while he – George was one of the key factors in not only my decision become an MD but to explore my research interests in a PhD program as well and was key in recruiting me to return to the university to help guide future health care professionals

    He mentored past alumni as he did with present students – creating avenues for them to not only acquire research experience but to empower them to reach for their dreams that will in turn be part of our future

    The future students who will be a part of our university because of interactions with present and past students enriched by George’s guidance!

    He was one of the most positive and uplifting spirits I have ever encountered – not only in teach and research – BUT IN LIFE – a lesson and a memory of him I will cherish forever

    My thoughts and prayers are with his family through this time and I want them to know what a very special gem he was to all!

  • Jonathan Lindsey

    This is a tragic loss for everyone who knew George and the entire NCSU community. What a great spirit. I had lunch with him just a few days ago, and he was quite down about the recent dismissal of NCSU staff. I had never seen George like that. Perhaps this is not the best memory but its one tidbit that shows how much he cared about others.

  • Halli Sigal

    The world and NC State will be at a loss without Dr. George Barthalmus. His inspiration and enthusiasm, which was overwhelmingly infectious, was part of the force that pushed me to discover my passion for research. He was such an advocate for his students and for the betterment of the university as a whole, and will certainly be deeply missed. I hope that his positive influence in higher education will continue through the work of his students throughout the university, and all over the world.

  • I can only echo the words of sorrow colleagues and friends have written on these pages…but I also echo the joy and appreciation expressed by each and every person:

    Joy to have known, respected, been mentored, and worked with Dr. B.

    Appreciation for his contributions to this university from the moment he set foot on our campus to the very end.

    I know we all will miss him in ways we cannot even imagine.

    My thoughts and prayers are with Marina and his family.

  • I first met “Tim” Barthalmus in 1971 when I was a young Doctoral student in Zoology at State and he was an untenured assistant professor. I was embarking on an involved field study of salamander behavioral ecology and because of his background, Tim became a member of my dissertation advisory committee. I also served as a T.A. under his direction in B.S. 100. I last visited with Tim in the late 1970’s but I will always remember him as a great teacher, a supportive advisor and most of all, a compassionate human being—I will miss him.

  • Mary A. Tetro

    My memory of George is of someone who looked at every day and made a plan to make that day better for someone else. His loving energy and passion for what he did was contagious to all who crossed his path. When I spoke to students who might have interests in UG research I’d say “Just talk to Dr. Barthalmus.. and his passion will be so profound you will jump at the chance to do research”. I love what Marcy Bullock said about the person who was always there to share his excitement on a genuinely sincere and human level. He will be sorely missed by so many.

  • Frank Abrams

    George was not one of a kind. He was, and IS, a stimulus, a guiding light, and the best example for many who are, like him, true “better makers” in society. No one can work harder, laugh more loudly and honestly, and care more deeply for his fellow humans and all that makes up our environment and lives than can our friend George.

    While he would not have us spend one minute bemoaning how we sadly miss him, we all know that we are responsible to honor him by continuing the tradition of truly loving one another, enjoying life, and making it all the better every day.

    To have been so fortunate as to know him while he walked and talked and laughed with us physically is a good fortune without match.

    Let’s pay forward and try a little harder each day to be like George!

  • David G. Brown

    I remember George as the tireless advocate for and promoter of creative undergraduate researchers. Less than a month ago at the ACCIAC MOM Conference (University of Miami) he (a) somehow managed to get extra NCSU students to the conference, (b) coached each presenter re how to share their research with rigor and clarity, (c) delighted in sharing the whole conference experience with “his” delegation, (d) enthusiastically encouraged students from all the universities in their research, (e) presented each NC State researcher with a special lapel pin, and (f) made sure to photograph the NCSU delegation at every possible opportunity. The conference was special because George made it so, for each student individually!

    We’re thankful for his innovations (e.g. poster session with lunch) re the conference itself, and for his persistent advocacy and enthusiasm. He’ll be greatly missed!

  • Steve Wainscott

    I met George in 1996 when my wife and I went with our daughter to NCSU for a college visit. Being the daughter of a Clemson professor (me), Stephanie was interested in ANY university other than Clemson! When we met with George, it was an instant sell. George was one of the greatest ambassadors any university could ever have. As a Tiger and (forgive me) a lifelong Tarheel fan, I must say that if all universities had the likes of George, all would be right in the world. Godspeed, George Barthalmus.

  • Ron Klauda

    George was known as “Tim” to his fellow grad students and professors at Penn State during the mid- to late 1960′s. He and I interacted often as fellow grad students in the Zoology Department, during many hours spent discussing this and that in the Life Sciences Building on campus, and at lively parties on weekends. Tim liked to entertain. His enthusiasm for science, his wit/humor, and all around zest for life were contagious, and made it a joy just to be around him. My last interaction with Tim was in 1994 or 1995 when he journeyed from North Carolina to White Deer Hunting Camp in central PA for a reunion with former Penn State grad students, faculty, and friends. We shared good food, lots of beer, and stimulating conversation that weekend, and put an exclamation point on that event by skinny dipping in a mountain stream. Tim was a true gem. I’ll remember him always.

  • Debbie Carraway

    In the late 90s, I worked in IT in CALS. I remember him as an engaged, enthusiastic person who helped inspire us to find ways to use technology to support students. He was compassionate and warm when working with support staff. My sincere sympathy to his family and friends.

  • Nathan Blanton

    I only met Dr. Barthalmus briefly while at the MoM conference this past April in Miami. He was very proud of our delegation and extremely warm to those of us that had been added to the team unannounced to him. He and I had a short, but meaningful conversation about my plans for the future and how I got interested in my field of study. Dr. Barthalmus was a man that I feel was very dedicated to NCSU, its students, and most importantly their welfare and development. He will be sorely missed and even though I only interacted with him for a few days I’ll always remember his sincerity. I hope for peace and comfort to his family and friends during this difficult period.

  • Warren Hynson

    I first worked with Dr. Barthalmus in the spring of 2008 when conducting undergraduate research and presenting at the Meeting of Minds Conference at FSU. George was incredibly helpful, inspiring, and had a knack for making people feel at ease with his humor and kindness. George’s tireless work ethic, friendship, and intelligence will be sorely missed in the NCSU community.

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