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Jim Oliver

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James Oliver, PhD

James (“Jim”) Oliver died on July 18, 2018. He was a former President of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) and was a pioneer in the study of tick physiology, tick-borne diseases, and acarine cytogenetics and biology. Jim was the first Callaway Professor in Georgia, USA, and was Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Biology at Georgia Southern University, for 50 years.

Jim’s boyhood was spent in and around Waynesboro, Georgia, where his father farmed 2,000 acres. As a youngster, Jim loved being in the woods and hunting in the fields. Later, he decided to enroll at the University of Georgia. While in college, Jim won the Georgia state boxing championship Golden Gloves. Jim continued his education at Georgia Teachers College, Statesboro because it was closer to home. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Georgia Teachers College. Jim completed his thesis on the life cycle of a parasitic worm and earned an M.S. in Zoology from Florida State University.

Jim was drafted and posted to the Army Chemical Corps at Fort (then Camp) Detrick, Maryland. At that time, Fort Detrick was a biological warfare facility, and studying ticks, mosquitoes, and the disease agents they transmit. This is where Jim developed tick-bombs. Jim took medical entomology courses at nearby Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for a year. When he married, the couple moved to the University of Kansas where Jim’s doctoral research was on the life history of mites associated with earthworms. After he graduated with a Ph.D. in Entomology from Kansas, they moved to Jim’s first academic position as assistant professor at the University of California–Berkeley. However, Jim was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) post-doctoral Fellowship in Cytogenetics to work at Melbourne University, Australia, which he completed before he began his first year of teaching and research at Berkeley. Once he was back on the Berkeley campus, Jim’s work progressed well. Then, Jim accepted a position in his home state at the University of Georgia, through an NSF program.

Jim served as associate professor in the Department of Entomology. Over the course of his career, Jim supervised the research of 30 M.S. students, nine Ph.D. students, and 30 postdoctoral students from 11 countries. He published 14 book chapters and more than 250 refereed papers. During his career, he was a popular speaker and delivered lectures, many of them invited, in 24 states, 19 countries, and at numerous universities. In 1971, GSU founded the Institute of Arthropodology and Parasitology (“IAP”), which Jim directed until his retirement, and which the University named for him in 2000. The IAP has now become more broadly based as the James H. Oliver, Jr. Institute for Coastal Plain Science at GSU.It could be argued that Jim’s most successful academic attributes were securing extramural research funds and attracting world-renowned scientists to work with him in his beloved Statesboro, Georgia.

He was awarded competitive major grant awards from the NSF, the National Institutes of Health (NIH; including a MERIT award from 1996–2000), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the American Museum of Natural History, and other institutions, and was continuously funded from external sources for more than four decades. Jim collaborated with most of the other major tick researchers of his era from around the world, either in Statesboro or in other parts of the globe. Indeed, Jim and Sue were world travelers, in association with Jim’s frequent conference attendances, invitations to present seminars and symposia addresses, and his excursions as a visiting scientist.

Jim Oliver was instrumental in moving the U.S. National Tick Collection from the Smithsonian Institution to GSU, where it remains on long-term enhancement loan. Further, Jim negotiated the hiring of a full-time curator, and later, an assistant curator by GSU to work with the collection. The collection is a biological treasure trove that includes more than one million specimens from all continents, more than 300 type specimens, and specimens of most of the world’s more than 850 recognized species of ticks.

Jim was also funded to undertake research on Lyme disease. Jim and his colleagues sequenced several novel Borrelia genotypes and formally described two new genospecies of Lyme disease bacteria from the southern United States: Borrelia americana and B. carolinensis. This work was completed in collaboration with several researchers from the Czech Republic. Jim secured funding for his Czech colleagues to work in Statesboro and collaborate in this research at GSU for extended periods. Reciprocally, Jim was awarded an honorary Doktor Honors Causa from the University of South Bohemia at a regal ceremony, of which he and Sue were especially proud. He was also awarded the J. G. Mendel medal from the Czech Academy of Sciences.

Jim received numerous additional honors during his academic career, including the ESA’s Founders’ Memorial Award Lecturer (1982), and being elected an ESA Honorary Member and selected as an ESA Fellow. Other awards included being the first recipient of the SOTAB (State of the Art in Biology) Biologist of the Year Award in Georgia, receiving the Hoogstraal Medal for Achievements in Medical Entomology from the American Committee on Medical Entomology of the America Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and being selected for the Eminent Parasitologist Award from the American Society of Parasitologists. Jim was President of the Southeastern Society of Parasitologists, President of the Acarological Society of America, and President of the Georgia Entomological Society, a Member of Council for the International Congresses of Entomology, and was elected as an honorary member of several scientific societies and universities around the world.

In another scientific arena in 1975, Jim and Sue (for many years as anonymous donors) established the LeConte Visiting Scholars Program at GSU in honor of one of Jim’s ancestors, Joseph LeConte (1823–1901), a noted geologist, conservationist, systematist, and physician who was born in Liberty County, Georgia. The LeConte Visiting Scholars Program was the first endowed visiting scholars program established at GSU to honor the university, intellectually stimulate faculty and students, and enrich the scholarly and cultural environment of the region. Jim welcomed visitors to his home through a proper cast-iron tick yard gate.

Jim’s legacy of zealous research and affection for the southern region of the United States continue to enrich the scholarly and cultural environment and live on among the bright, diligent, and scholarly faculty and students on the campuses of Georgia Southern University and around the world. Dr. James Oliver has made a significant difference in the lives of his family and of students, colleagues, scientist scholars, and friends across the globe.
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