Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

Search form

Remembering Bill Newcomb

Remembering Bill Newcomb

Professor William (Bill) Newcomb was born Feb. 2, 1943. He grew up in New Haven, Conn., the son of a postal carrier, which instilled a life-long passion for stamps. Growing up in a home surrounded by gardens, Bill became an ardent plant naturalist.

While at Queen’s, he resided in nearby Battersea, a location that allowed him to fulfil his love of wood. He maintained a woodlot, cut his own trees, and prepared lumber for construction projects. When the new Bioscience complex was built, Bill collected the trees that had been felled in construction, and milled the flooring that is in place in the biology conference room. A plaque commemorating his contributions to the room specifically and the department in general will be installed in his honour.

He began his academic life at the University of Connecticut (BA Zoology 1965, M.Sc. Botany 1969) then completed his PhD at the University of Saskatchewan (1972). After post-doctoral work at the University of Saskatchewan and Harvard University, he moved to the University of Guelph where he spent three years as a research associate and lecturer. He joined Queen’s in 1978 as an assistant professor.

Bill spent the next 35 years in the Department of Biology, working on the developmental processes that control microspore embryogenesis, an important breeding strategy in agriculture, the role of plant hormones and other metabolites in the development of nitrogen fixing root nodules. Throughout his career, he contributed his expertise in electron microscopy to collaborations with colleagues in the department and beyond.

Within the department, Bill revealed a remarkable passion for mentoring undergraduate students. He served for many years as an undergraduate chair, academic advisor and member of the Board of Studies. He was particularly kind to students who faced unusual academic and personal circumstances, working with them to find ways to deal with their challenges. He left behind a collection of the many letters of gratitude that he had received over his years as an advisor.

Bill passed away June 8 in his home, leaving no immediate family.

His friends and colleagues held a celebration of his life and contributions June 20 at the University Club.

Professor Christopher Moyes is the Head of the Department of Biology at Queen’s.

This article originally appeared in the Queen’s Gazette on July 8, 2014.