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RIP Professor Steve Arch

By Randall S. Barton on April 08, 2013 04:18 PM

Steve Arch

Courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.

With sadness we report that emeritus professor Stephen Arch [biology 1972-2012] passed away of a heart attack this past weekend. He was appointed the Laurens N. Ruben Professor of Biology in 1995, and was department chair in 1994–96.

Explaining in an interview why he had decided to retire last year, Steve said, “I didn’t want to die in my office, literally or intellectually.” The end came while vacationing in Colorado with his wife, Elizabeth, and friends. He was vital right up until the end, still shooting noon hoops weekly at the sports center. 

Daniel Walker ’07, who dodged his elbows more than a few times, remembered that Steve played basketball like he taught, “tough but fair.”

Born in 1942, Steve grew into a natural athlete who stood six-foot-two and weighed 255 pounds. In 1964 he received an AB in biological sciences from Stanford University, where he studied biology and played both linebacker and fullback for the Cardinal. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he traveled to Mississippi to register disenfranchised voters, and was present at the infamous Democratic Convention in 1968. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but decided instead to get his PhD at the University of Chicago, which he received in 1970.

Specializing in cellular neurophysiology, Steve was the recipient of numerous fellowships, grants, and awards during his career. The Oregon Health & Science University’s Medical Research Foundation formally recognized his leadership ability and dedication to mentoring research students when it accorded him their Mentor Award in 2008. He advised more than 170 senior theses, including almost 50 who went on to notable careers in research and medicine.

“He had the most elegant scientific mind I have encountered,” noted Melanie Deal ’87.

In addition to his wife, Elizabeth, Steve is survived by daughters Alexandra “Xan,” who is employed at Reed as director of collections services in the library, and Victoria “Tori.” 

In life, his colleagues lauded his personality, will, and adherence to strong standards.

“The best feeling is knowing when you’ve been instrumental in turning somebody’s intellectual light on,” Steve once said. Many lights twinkle in the intellectual firmament because of him, and we honor his memory.