In memoriam: Dr. Robert L. Rausch

Dr. Robert L. Rausch, a former professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) and a world-renowned parasitologist, died on Saturday, October 6, in Washington.

Rausch, who was born and educated in Ohio, received his veterinary degree in 1945 and went on to complete post-graduate studies in parasitology and wildlife. He began his career as a parasitologist in 1949 at the Arctic Health Research Center in Alaska and rose to become chief of the centre's Infectious Disease Section before the unit closed in 1974.

On his way to the University of Washington Medical School in 1975, Rausch and his wife Virginia spent three years in Saskatoon where he taught at the WCVM. Before leaving the college in 1978, Rausch made a significant contribution to the University of Saskatchewan (the equivalent of funds budgeted for his salary over three years).

In turn, the U of S established the Robert L. and Virginia R. Rausch Visiting Professorship at the WCVM in recognition of Rausch's contributions to northern biology and to the university.

"This program has enabled us to bring to Saskatoon each year, from anywhere in the world, two or three outstanding scientists in the fields of parasitology, wildlife health or zoonotic diseases," said WCVM parasitologist Dr. Lydden Polley. "The professorships have fostered international collaborations and have presented our students with many new perspectives on infectious diseases."

The 2012 Robert L. and Virginia R. Rausch Visiting Professorship will be given by Dr. Kathryn Huyvaert of Colorado State University on November 6 at the WCVM. Huyvaert will speak about new approaches to inference in wildlife disease ecology.

In 1985, the U of S presented an honorary Doctor of Laws to Rausch in recognition of his contributions to parasitology, northern research and to the university.

Rausch, who was a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, was considered one of the great scholars of nature and natural history of the North. His career, which spanned over 60 years, included research focusing on the parasites of northern mammals. His contributions have been fundamentally important to the development of parasitology.

In 2011, Rausch was awarded the Eminent Parasitologist Lectureship by the American Society of Parasitologists (ASP) — an honour that he received during the organization's annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. The society's award honours an individual of eminence and international visibility for a significant contribution to parasitology over a substantial period of time.

Alaska was the ideal venue for recognizing Rausch who came to the northern state in 1948 after the establishment of the Arctic Health Research Center of the U.S. Public Health Service.

"Together over the past 60 years, Robert and Virginia Rausch have been an integral part of the history and landscape of Alaska and the north," stated Drs. Eric Hoberg and Ann Adams in their letter nominating Rausch for the ASP honour. Hoberg is chief curator of the U.S. National Parasite Collection in Beltsville, Md., while Adams is director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Kansas City District Laboratory.

Rausch spent 27 years in the north where his work on the parasite fauna of Alaska —including the zoonoses Trichinella and Echinococcus multicularis — is considered "truly pioneering" in the world of parasitology, described Polley.

"Bob Rausch has made many very significant contributions to our understanding of the structure and function of parasite communities in landscapes in many areas of the world, but especially in the Arctic," said Polley, one of Rausch's former WCVM colleagues who wrote a letter of support for Rausch's award nomination.

"Bob has a great ability to interpret data and other information from this research in a broader, and sometimes global, ecological context. Both he and Virginia are ‘close to the land' and detect much in their surroundings that most would miss," added Polley. "This vision is a considerable asset, and I suspect drives much of their research, as well as their approach to others and to life. Theirs is a world in which sharing is critical to humanity and to positive progress."

In the past six decades, Rausch published more than 300 papers that provide key information and insights into the biology and ecology of a range of parasites and hosts in many locations around the world. Much of this work depended on meticulous observation of the parasites, their interactions with hosts, and how the host-parasite assemblages contribute to the structure and function of ecosystems.

Besides their time in Alaska, Rausch and his wife travelled extensively around the world, and throughout his career, Rausch served as a singular ambassador for parasitology in the international arena.
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