Walter Fitch Passes Away

Note: Passing along a letter I received.

Dear Colleagues,

I am sorry to report that a beloved member of our campus community, Dr. Walter Fitch, passed away in his sleep this morning [2011/03/11] at his home in University Hills. We will miss him dearly as a friend, as a colleague, and as a towering intellectual presence.

Walter was born in San Diego in 1929, and earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1958. He was a post-doctoral scholar at both Stanford and University College (London) and held full professorships at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California. He came to UC Irvine in 1989 as a Distinguished Professor and later became the Chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Walter was a founding father of the field of molecular evolution, and established methods for constructing phylogenetic trees from amino acid and nucleic acid sequences. He also made contributions to virology, the origin of life, taxonomy, genetics and molecular biology. For his work he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Linnean Society (England). He founded the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution and was the editor-in-chief of its journal, Molecular Biology and Evolution for its first 10 years. He contributed mightily not only to the intellectual process but as a mentor to young scientists.

Walter is survived by his beloved wife, his four children and several grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.


Brandon Gaut
Professor & Chair
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology