January 25, 2017

FMU’s Tom Roop left an endearing legacy

FMU’s Tom Roop left an endearing legacy

The Francis Marion University community is in mourning over the loss of Dr. Tom Roop, one of the great figures in the university’s 47-year history.

Roop, a professor of biology at FMU from 1972-2004, passed away at his home on January 14. He’ll be honored on campus this Saturday, Jan. 21.

A visitation with family members will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the President’s residence. A memorial service will follow at 2 p.m. at Chapman Auditorium, in the McNair Science Building.

Roop, a native of Niagara Falls, N.Y., received numerous honors and accolades during his more than three decades at FMU, but colleagues and students remember him mostly for his personal warmth and compassion.

Dr. Julia Krebs, who worked with Roop in the Department of Biology, says she was astounded by how kind and welcoming Roop was when she joined the faculty a few years after Roop.

“And then I saw that he treated everyone – faculty, staff, students – the same way,” says Krebs. “He was a compassionate as any person I’ve ever met. He just took care of people, did his best to make sure they were on the right path.”

Students recall Roop’s gentle nudges to push them onto career tracks that best fit their skills.

They also remember the famous camping trips that Roop organized every fall to the North Carolina mountains, celebrations of fellowship for faculty, students and alumni. And they recall Roop’s astonishing memory.

Decades after graduation, Roop would remember not only student names but intimate details about their lives.

“He always made an effort to always treat me as a friend, calling me by name, and stopping to chat as if no time had passed, years, even decades after graduation,” says Paige Thomas, a Roop student from the late 1970s. “I have run into him on occasion over the 35 years since I was a student and it was always the same. I’m thankful to have had him as a professor and friend.”

Adds Krebs, “His letters of recommendation were just amazing. He knew so much about every one of his students. If you read one of those about yourself, you’d feel good for a month.”

Dr. Fred Carter, FMU’s President, says the warmth of Roop’s personality filled a room.

“I can’t remember a visit by Tom in my office that didn’t begin with a hug,” says Carter. “That’s just Tom. He may be the most popular professor that’s ever walked this campus. He was beloved by students, faculty, staff… Everyone.”

Dr. Peter King, FMU’s provost and another former biology colleague of Roop’s, called him “a great mentor who worked hard at all aspects of his profession.”

Roop taught physiology, among other subjects, at FMU. His overarching interest during much of his time at the university was the pre-med and pre-health sciences programs. He helped establish FMU’s bonafides in the pre-med area and was a one-man public relations campaign in Florence and beyond.

He was delighted to see graduate medical test scores and placement rates for his former students soar.

“He bragged about (FMU) everywhere he went,” says Krebs. “That was great. We were new then. We needed a booster.”

Roop’s work did not go unnoticed. He was awarded FMU’s Distinguished Professor Award in 1980, and was named the J. L. Mason Professor of Health Sciences and Professor of Biology and Coordinator of Biology Pre-Professional Programs, an endowed position at FMU.

Roop received the Helm’s Award for the South Carolina Top Science Educator of the Year, was honored with the Service Award from the South Carolina Academy of Science in 2005, and was inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society. Outside of FMU, Roop worked with the South Carolina Academy of Science in many capacities, and helped to found the South Carolina Governor’s School of Math and Science.

For more information, contact Tucker Mitchell, executive director of public affairs, at 843.661.1332, 843.409.5587 or cmitchell@fmarion.edu.