Posted on Jun 28, 2007

Willard Roth, former chair of the Biology Department and founder of the Health Professions Program.

Willard Roth, former chair of the Biology Department and pioneer of Union’s Health Professions Program, died June 20. He was 82.

Roth joined Union College in 1967 as chair of the Biology Department, a position he held until 1981, when he was named associate dean of undergraduate studies. Roth also helped form the Health Professions Program in the 1970s before retiring in 1995.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, July 8 at 2 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.

“He was really the founder of College’s modern Biology Department. He enlarged it and hired professors that formed the basis of this department,” said Biology Department Chair Leo Fleishman.

Beyond his work hiring faculty and as a dynamic classroom lecturer, Roth spent many hours helping students earn admission to medical school, said former biology Professor Twitty J. Styles. Roth frequently phoned medical school admissions deans and conducted mock admissions interviews with students, providing what Styles called “visionary” leadership.   

“His dedication to students who aspired to careers in the health professions was his greatest impact on the department. He developed a national, if not an international network, involving quite close rapport with admissions committees to effectively place our graduates in a very tailored manner,”  said longtime colleague and former biology professor Carl George.

Roth helped found Northeast Association of Advisors to the Health Professions (NEAAHP) and was regarded as pioneer of advising pre-med students across the Northeast, said Carol Weisse, director of the Health Professions Program and current president of the advisors association.

Roth was born in Waterloo, Iowa in 1925. After graduating from high school in 1943, he served in the U.S. Army in World War II in both Europe and Asia. He attended Swarthmore College, graduating with high honors, and then did graduate work in biology at Harvard University, receiving a doctoral degree in 1956.

Roth taught pre-clinical sciences at Harvard Medical School from 1955 to 1967, rising to the rank of assistant professor before coming to Union College. His expertise was in histology, the study of minute tissue structure, and his research interest was neuron endocrinology.

Roth became involved in Tibetan Buddhism in 1980, and was named director of the Karma Kagyu Institute, which is concerned with preserving and disseminating Tibetan Arts and Culture. He was associate director of Albany Karma Thegsum Chöling, an upstate New York Tibetan Buddhist Center affiliated with the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery in Woodstock, N.Y.

Combining his various interests, Roth has been greatly involved in interfaith activities, and also acted as night chaplain at both Ellis Hospital and Albany Medical Center Hospital.

Roth is survived by his wife of 55 years, Laura M. Roth; his brother, Milton Roth of Waterloo, Iowa; his daughter, Karen Roth and her husband Michio Fujita of Albany; his son, Andrew Roth and his wife Andrea and grandsons Eric and Zachary Roth, of Saratoga Springs.