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William Harrison Telfer ’48

A picture of William Telfer

William Harrison Telfer ’48, November 6, 2010, Newton, Maine, following a brief illness. As a young boy interested in the natural world, Bill would bicycle any distance with his friends in order to reach a prime spot for viewing birds. He enrolled at Reed and began studying science on an intensive track in anticipation of being drafted into the military-which he was, after his first year. Following World War II, he returned to Reed and completed a BA in biology. His deep interest in science was inspired by work with professors A.A. Knowlton [physics, 1915–48], L.E. Griffith [biology, 1920–45], and Arthur F. Scott [chemistry, 1923–79]. Bill went on to earn graduate degrees in zoology from Harvard. His doctoral research marked the beginning of a lifelong study of oogenesis in insects. For much of his career he used the North American saturniid moth, Hyalophora cecropia, as a model. In a graduate course on nonvascular plants at Harvard, he met biologist Mary Andrus; they married in 1950. Bill joined the biology department at the University of Pennsylvania in 1954, was department chair in 1972–76, and was named the inaugural Class of 1939 Professor of Natural Science in 1991. He was coauthor of the textbook Biology of Organisms, and was recognized as an international authority on insect physiology and biochemistry. He retired as professor emeritus in 1994, but continued his writing and research at the university for 10 years, before moving to Maine. At the age of 84, he published an extensive review of 100 years of research on egg formation in the order Lepidoptera, with the aim of stimulating future research. Bill's mother, Annie Harrison Telfer ’15, and sister, Sara Telfer Bunnett ’42, also attended Reed. Survivors include two daughters and a granddaughter. His wife died in 2007.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2011

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