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George Poppensiek, veterinary college dean emeritus, dies

George C. Poppensiek

George C. Poppensiek, dean and professor emeritus in the College of Veterinary Medicine, died Sept. 8 in Ithaca. He was 97.

Poppensiek served as dean from 1959 to 1974, before he was named the first James Law Professor of Comparative Medicine in the veterinary college.

“All of us are beneficiaries of Dean Poppensiek’s exceptional contributions to the college and profession,” said Lorin Warnick, interim dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Born in New York City in 1918 and raised in Bogota, New Jersey, Poppensiek matriculated in Cornell’s College of Agriculture as a pre-veterinary student in 1937. But the following year, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his undergraduate degree (1938) and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (1942).

In 1943, Poppensiek became an assistant professor of veterinary science at the University of Maryland, where he was responsible for clinical and laboratory diagnosis following an extensive outbreak of rabies in Prince George’s County, Maryland. This experience led him to become department head in Lederie Laboratories of Pearl River, New York. Four years later, Poppensiek found his way back to Ithaca to embark on graduate study in virology, pathology and biochemistry.

In 1949, he was appointed director of the Diagnostic Laboratory in Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, while simultaneously earning a master’s degree in 1951. The following year, he became a research associate in the Baker Institute of Virology, where he worked to develop a combined vaccine for canine infectious hepatitis and distemper.

In 1955, Poppensiek became supervisory veterinarian for immunological investigations at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a biologically secure research center off Long Island. He returned to Cornell in 1959 as professor of microbiology and dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, an appointment he held for the next 15 years.

Provost Michael Kotlikoff, former dean of the veterinary college, characterized his predecessor as “the quintessential gentleman and scholar. Kind and considerate of everyone, thoughtful and careful in decision making, and pursuing the highest standards of science and medicine, George was responsible for so much of the reputation that the college now enjoys.”

“I knew him as an administrator with a firm commitment to the truth and to the professionalism of his faculty and staff but with a warm and gentle manner of expressing his feelings,” said John Wootton, professor emeritus of biochemistry.

While serving as the James Law professor at Cornell following his deanship, Poppensiek was appointed research professor in the Department of Biometry and Epidemiology of the State University College of Medicine in Syracuse, New York. He held both appointments until he retired in 1988.

That year, Cornell established the annual Poppensiek Lectureship in Global Veterinary Medicine in which distinguished scholars from abroad are invited to Cornell for a full week to share their expertise with students and faculty.

The author of 48 professional publications and 68 monographs, Poppensiek was predeceased by Edith Marion, to whom he was married for 63 years, and his son, Neil Allen. He is survived by his daughter, Leslie Marion Howe, and five grandchildren.

Services will be private. Memorial contributions can be made to the George C. Poppensiek Visiting Professor of Global Health Lecture, College of Veterinary Medicine, Box 39, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.

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Claudia Wheatley