Obituary and Condolences

Lawrence "Larry" J. Fischer

September 2, 1937 August 7, 2018
Lawrence "Larry" J. Fischer
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Obituary for Lawrence "Larry" J. Fischer

Lawrence Joseph Fischer, 80, died in Iowa City at Superior Care Iowa Respite House on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, from complications due to dementia.

Born in Chicago on September 2, 1937 to Virginia (Dieker) and Lawrence Fischer, Larry was the oldest of three children. From age 7 to 14 his family lived in his parent’s small home town, Quincy, Illinois, and he had many stories about living amongst extended family. They moved back to the Chicago area and he went to Arlington Heights High School, where a counselor suggested his career path be “farming.” Apparently, playing baseball pre-empted his studies. However, while attending the University of Illinois Chicago and receiving a B.S. and M.S. in Pharmacy, a lifelong love of science was born. Larry then pursued a PhD at the University of California-San Francisco, while also pursuing the love of his life. On the elevator one day he saw a lovely young lab technician, skipped his floor to learn her name, Betsy Dunphy, and the rest is history. They were married on October 24, 1963 in San Francisco.

Larry and Betsy had their first child, Julie, in San Francisco. After receiving his PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry in 1965, the family departed for London (St. Mary's Hospital) for Larry’s post-doctorate work. In 1966 he went to work for Merck & Company, a large pharmaceutical company in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Betsy gave birth to Pamela in 1968, and the family moved to Iowa City for Larry’s new job, a professorship at the University of Iowa Department of Pharmacology. In addition to loving the freedom to pursue research, he also enjoyed the lively faculty members who often engaged in divisive points of view but eventually came to agreement. In 1969, baby Karen was born, completing a female majority household, and Larry was firmly on the defensive for the rest of his life.

In 1985 Larry accepted a position as Director of the Center for Environmental Toxicology at Michigan State University (now called the Institute for Integrative Toxicology). In his new position, he immersed himself in both science and policy, serving on numerous national and state committees, advising agencies such as the FDA, EPA, National Cancer Institute, and the NIH, and successfully advocating to make MSU a smoke- free campus.

A mentor to many graduate students, Larry devoted many hours in the laboratory researching the basic science of diabetes among other scientific puzzles. On a practical level, he told his pregnant daughter to avoid eating lake-caught fish as they may be contaminated by mercury. During his productive academic career, he took sabbaticals in Switzerland, Tucson, AZ and Sweden and authored over 100 scientific articles. He retired from MSU, becoming a Professor Emeritus, in 2004. In 2011, Larry and Betsy moved back to Iowa City to be near their youngest daughter.

Walking in the woods and fields with his dog was one of Larry’s favorite activities, and hunting proved an excellent way to enjoy nature all day long. Larry was competitive, and he loved to move his body; baseball and basketball were his early passions. Later in life, he adored driving his tractor and his 1962 Porche 356B, living in the country and visiting his cabin in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. His Midwestern roots did not stop him from loving the ocean and body-surfing at every opportunity, no matter how cold the water.

It was challenging to get Larry to travel unless it was related to work, but once Betsy succeeded, he loved it and they visited 4 continents and 19 countries. Tanzania and the Galapagos were highlights. Larry was a playful and loyal friend and a great listener.

Larry is remembered fondly by his surviving family: his wife of 54 years, Elizabeth Fischer, his daughters Julie Fischer, Pamela Fischer, and Karen Fischer, son-in-law Brent Palmer, his brother William (Bill) Fischer and sister Mary Jackson, and his four grand-children Brenden Femal, Claire Femal, Oliver Palmer, and Milo Palmer.

The family is grateful for the excellent care Larry received in his last years. A celebration of life will be held at a future date, and donations in Larry’s name can be made to the National Resources Defense Council.


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