By Jennifer Krisch
Ohio University's Robert F. "Bob" Rakowski will be remembered as an internationally renowned researcher, a caring teacher and mentor of students, and an ardent fan of the women's volleyball team.
Rakowski, 66, professor of biological sciences, died Feb. 19, at O'Bleness Memorial Hospital after suffering a heart attack.
Department of Biological Sciences Chair Ralph DiCaprio said his death was a tremendous loss to his colleagues and friends. "Bob Rakowski was an excellent colleague and a highly regarded member of the faculty," he said.
Rakowski joined the Ohio University faculty as chair of the department in 2000, a position he voluntarily stepped down from in 2005 to focus on teaching. He was a member of the biomedical engineering faculty.
Rakowski was a student favorite, DiCaprio said, consistently receiving excellent student evaluations each year. Upon learning of his death, past and present students of his Biological Sciences 171 class sent e-mails to the department with their remembrances.
"One of the fondest memories of him was his openness," wrote one student. "No one ever felt intimidated to approach him, even though he was one of the world's experts in his field. He welcomed questions and wanted us to understand the material he was sharing, often adding illustrations from his own life."
Rakowski was dedicated to helping students through education, mentoring, guidance and support. In addition to teaching, he served as a graduate student adviser and one of the women's volleyball team's biggest fans. The professor rarely missed a home game and often traveled to away games as well.
"He always made sure he came to my games and made a point to talk to me afterwards," wrote one former player. "He was also helping me decide on a graduate school."
"I knew him very well," wrote another. "I am a junior and play volleyball at OU, and he is truly one of our biggest fans. An amazing professor and person."
Rakowski dedicated more than two decades of research to the study of cell function, specifically the mechanisms responsible for transporting sodium and potassium across cell membranes. He had an international reputation as a leader in this field.
"He was always the most animated and enthusiastic when we had a chance to discuss his current research projects," DiCaprio said.
Generously funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 25 years, his work focused on the sodium pump, a protein found in the cell membrane of nearly all cells that provides the energy for transportation across the membranes. He was in the final year of work resulting from his latest NIH grant, a four-year grant that exceeded $1 million.
"Dr. Rakowski was an outstanding experimentalist with a knack for exploiting electronics and computers, yet with a deep sense of biological reality," said Paul DeWeer, a colleague from the University of Pennsylvania who worked with Rakowski on his research.
For more than a quarter century, Rakowski spent each May and June as a visiting investigator at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. He also was a member of the lab's corporation and authored or coauthored more than 45 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Rakowski is survived by his wife of 43 years, Linda Hall Rakowski, whom he met when they both were students at Cornell, a sister, three daughters and four grandchildren. He had planned to retire from Ohio University at the end of this academic year and relocate to Falmouth, Mass., close to the Marine Biological Laboratory.