VIMS Professor John Edward Olney, Sr. passed on January 11, 2010 after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 62.
John was first employed at VIMS in 1972 and joined the faculty as an instructor in 1979. During his 36-year career, he specialized in zooplankton ecology, fisheries science, and the early life history and evolution of fishes. He published 75 papers in technical journals, including numerous book chapters.
John was widely known as an expert in the identification of young stages of fishes, publishing and teaching extensively in this field. His research focused on the development, anatomy, and evolution of two groups of fishes in particular—the oarfishes and the pearlfishes. The taxonomic classifications that resulted from his research on these fishes are widely used in the field of ichthyology.
John was a beloved and respected teacher and advisor, who unselfishly offered his knowledge and expertise to many students at VIMS and other institutions, serving as major professor and confidant to 22 graduate students.
In recent years John joined Ed Houde of the University of Maryland to offer a unique course in the Early Life History of Marine Fishes. He steadfastly built a teaching collection representing larvae of 145 fish families and used it to show students the remarkably diverse specializations that larval fish have evolved to thrive in the plankton. The collection, the course, and the lecture notes and course guide are an important part of his legacy.
John headed the VIMS Anadromous Fishes research program and was a well-known expert on the biology and conservation of American shad. Along with his students and collaborators, he published 25 papers on American shad and was principle advisor to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on decisions related to shad management in Virginia. Early in the discussions on the Mattaponi River-King William Reservoir issue, he warned of the project's potential impacts to shad reproduction.
His service to college governance was extensive and included appointments to the Academic Affairs, Planning and Resources, and Executive Committees of the William & Mary Faculty Assembly. Within the School of Marine Science, John served as Chair of both the Academic Council and Educational Policy Committee, and was a member of the Academic Status and Degrees, Library Advisory, and Admissions Committees. John was also Chair of the Department of Fisheries Science from 2006 to 2009.
Friends, family and colleagues valued John's culinary talents. For many years, he cooked for VIMS students at their fall fundraiser, as well as for the faculty at their annual seafood fest. In the spring he hunted morel mushrooms in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with good friends at his side, a ritual that he practiced for more than two decades.
He is survived by his wife Lee Larkin, son John E. Olney Jr., daughter Susan O. Napiecek, brother Willard W. Olney, two sisters, Sylvia Kelley and Amelia Hellman, and one grandchild, Andrew Blatnik.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science Foundation (VIMS Foundation) for the benefit of the John Edward Olney, Sr. Memorial Endowment, the purpose of which is to support research and travel by VIMS graduate students in ichthyology and fisheries science. Gifts may be sent c/o VIMS, P.O. Box 1346, Rte. 1208 Greate Road, Gloucester Point, VA 23062.
A graveside service will be held at the Peninsula Memorial Park at 12:00 pm on Saturday, January 16, 2010. On Friday, January 15, 2010, the family will receive friends at the home of Lee Larkin from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm. A celebration of John's life will be scheduled in the spring of 2010 at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.