FMU community mourns death of retired professor

The FMU community is in mourning over the loss of Dr. Tom Roop, a former professor.

Roop, a professor of biology at FMU from 1972- 2004, passed away in his home on Jan. 14. He was honored on campus on Jan. 21.

A visitation with family members was held from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the president’s residence. A memorial service followed at 2 p.m. at Chapman Auditorium in the McNair Science Building.

Roop, a native of Niagara Falls, N.Y., received numerous honors and accolades during his many decades at FMU, but colleagues and students remember him mostly for his personal warmth and compassion.

Dr. Julia Krebs, who worked with Roop in the Department of Biology, says she was astounded by how kind and welcoming Roop was when she joined the faculty a few years after Roop.

“And then I saw that he treated everyone – faculty, staff and students – the same way,” Krebs said. “He was as compassionate as any person I’ve ever met. He just took care of people and did his best to make sure they were on the right path.”

Students recall Roop’s gentle nudges to push them towards career tracks that best fit their skills.

They also remember the camping trips that Roop organized every fall to the North Carolina mountains; celebrations of fellowship for faculty, students and alumni.

Roop remembered not only student’s names but intimate details about their lives decades after graduation.

“He always made an effort to treat me as a friend, call me by name and stop to chat as if no time had passed, years, even decades after graduation,” Paige Thomas, a Roop student from the late 1970s said. “I have run into him on occasion over the 35 years since I was a student, and it was always the same. I’m thankful to have had him as a professor and friend.”

Krebs said that Roop was an encouraging professor who knew people well.

“His letters of recommendation were just amazing,” Krebs said. “He knew so much about every one of students. If you read one of those about yourself, you’d feel good for a month.”

Dr. Fred Carter, president of FMU, said that the warmth of Roop’s personality filled a room.

“I can’t remember a visit by Tom in my office that didn’t begin with a hug,” Carter said. “That’s just Tom. He may be the most popular professor that’s ever walked this campus. He was beloved by students, faculty, staff – everyone.”

Dr. Peter King, provost of FMU, and another former biology colleague of Roop’s, called him “A great mentor who worked hard at all aspects of his profession.”

Roop taught many subjects, including physiology, at FMU. His overarching interest during much of his time at the university was the pre-med and pre-health sciences programs. He helped establish FMU’s bonafides in the pre-med area and was a one-man public relations campaign in Florence and other areas. He was delighted to see graduate medical test scores and placement rates for his former students soar.

“He bragged about (FMU) everywhere he went,” Krebs said. “That was great. We were new then. We needed a booster.”

Roop’s work did not go unnoticed. He was awarded FMU’s Distinguished Professor Award in 1980, and he was named the J.L. Mason Professor of Health Sciences and Professor of Biology. He was also the Coordinator of Biology Pre-Professional Programs, an endowed position at FMU.

Roop received the Helm’s Award for the South Carolina Top Science Educator of the Year, was honored with the Serviced Award form the South Carolina Academy of Science in 2005 and was inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society. Outside of FMU, Roop worked with the South Carolina Academy of Science in many capacities and helped found the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics.