Memorial Trees Planted at Thomas Hunt Morgan Building

Two new trees recently planted on the Washington Avenue lawn of the Thomas Hunt Morgan Biological Sciences Building hold special meaning. The native Blue Ash, the species that defines the Bluegrass Region, are in memory of colleagues in the Department of Biology who passed away recently: graduate student Martin Striz (Aug. 17, 2014), custodial staff member Kenny Robinson (Jan. 10, 2014) and Biology Department staff member Tony Games (Oct. 19, 2015).

“Martin, Kenny and Tony represented an important part of our community and their passing still affects many of us,” said Scott Hotaling, a graduate student in the Department of Biology. “The trees are meant to serve as a memorial to all of those we have lost who were part of the departmental family.”

An informal gathering is planned at the trees Friday, May 6, at 11 a.m. to pay tribute to the significant impact of these individuals.  

Memories from faculty, students and friends:

Martin Striz, Ph.D. Student, O’Hara Lab (August 17, 2014)

From Bruce O’Hara, Professor and Martin’s mentor:
I am heartbroken over Martin’s passing.  I have lived and worked with Martin for most of the past 10 years and he has been a big part of my life.  We shared many things over these years, and seeing his empty chair in the lab is very difficult (he chose an unusual tall grey chair many years ago, different from all the other lab chairs, and everyone immediately recognizes this as “Martin’s Chair”).  In any event, he has clearly been a fixture in our lab and in the whole department for many years.  I consider him more a colleague and friend than a student after all this time.  He has been a wonderful teacher during this time too, in many different courses, and received countless compliments and words of appreciation from students, faculty and co-workers.  He was also a teacher and true scholar within the lab, not only in his “official” areas of expertise for our computer algorithms, analyses, genetics and genomics, but in many surprising areas as well.  He was obviously exceptionally bright and well-read in so many areas.  It was always a joy just to talk with him in the lab, and we probably spent too many hours discussing philosophy, international relations, or everyday life.  I will dearly miss this. 

As a scientist, Martin was truly remarkable.  He has been at the heart of so many projects we have done, especially those that have relied on a new technology to monitor sleep and wake in mice non-invasively.  He has applied this technology to studies of the genetics of sleep and circadian rhythms, sleep and traumatic brain injury, sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease, and new sleep and wake therapeutics.  Most impressively, he was at the heart of several large international efforts to apply our technology to large scale phenotyping projects at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oxford University, and the pre-eminent institute for mouse genetics (and the use of mice to understand human disease) – The Jackson Laboratory.  They had already submitted his name for their most prestigious fellowship to support him during his post-doctoral years, and he already had plans to spend all of October there to finish his PhD thesis (even though he was already functioning as a senior scientist on all of our projects).   

Although Kevin Donohue and I have worked on our technology and these research projects for over 10 years now, Martin is probably the only person in our large collaborative research groups that really understands the biology, the genetics, the hardware, AND the software.  He has been a critical and leading scientist within our company, Signal Solutions, as well.  Everyone always talks about big discoveries coming at the interface between disciplines and the importance of interdisciplinary training, but very few individuals are truly capable of bridging these diverse areas, or have taken the time to do so.  Martin was clearly one of these rare individuals, and his extremely diverse training is one reason he had finished his PhD years ago, as he clearly could have.  He had already developed novel approaches to improving our identification of QTLs for sleep traits, but also improved both the hardware and software of our high-throughput piezoelectric system.  He was clearly positioned to be a leader in the emerging field of large scale phenotyping, as he was not only at the heart of The Jackson Laboratory KOMP2 efforts (to develop mouse models of human disease) but of the even larger IMPC (International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium) with over $100 million already invested around the world.  Martin had unique talents to handle these incredibly large data sets and make sense of them.  His talent will be impossible to replace. 

Of course, of greatest importance, he will be missed as a wonderful caring person and friend.  In 10 years, I never heard him say a negative thing about another person.  Everyone who met Martin liked him, and thought highly of him, and he will be missed by everyone who knew him. 

From Shreyas Joshi, Graduate Student:
Martin was one of the smartest person I have ever known. As a graduate student, he had a great set of skills and was the expert in his area. He knew programming, statistics, behavioral study and experimental techniques. Along with that, he was respected by professors and fellow students alike in the program, and was well loved by his students as a TA. Inside the lab, he is constantly remembered through his work. Long before he was supposed to graduate, he already had secured a prestigious postdoctoral position. He was a guy with a great sense of humor, and I was always amazed by how well read he was about subjects outside the lab, be it history, philosophy, or current affairs. As a person who used to sit next to him, for me the loss has been personal as I lost not just a colleague, but a friend and a mentor as well.

Kenny Robinson, Custodial Staff (January 10, 2014)

From Anita Overstreet, Custodial Staff:
Kenny was a fun and crazy person who everyone loved to be around! He took his job seriously and was always willing to help others achieve success while working. His presence is greatly missed and always remembered. We loved him and will forever keep him in our hearts!    

From Ann Morris, Associate Professor:
Kenny was often the first person I saw in the mornings after arriving to work, and we would chat a little as he made the rounds on the second floor of the Morgan building. Talking with Kenny was a great way to start my day – he had a relentlessly positive attitude and a warm, cheerful personality. I especially enjoyed hearing about his family, and it was clear how important those relationships were to him. Talking with Kenny helped to remind me to be grateful for my life outside the lab, and I miss seeing his smiling face around our department.

From Daniel Abbott:
Kenny Robinson grew up in Lexington and graduated from Lafayette High School.  He started working for UK as a Custodial Worker in 1991.  During his time at UK Kenny worked in many areas.  He started his career working 2nd shift in the Engineering buildings.  He was then one of the first chosen to work night shift in the new WT Young Library.  During this time Kenny’s cleaning skill was recognized and he was promoted to a Utility Worker position.  Kenny enjoyed being around people and they enjoyed him.  He loved to tell stories and he had a much larger audience when he started working day shift in Thomas Hunt Morgan.  His conversations brightened people’s days.  Even if someone did not agree with everything Kenny said they always enjoyed the conversation.  Kenny also took pride in his work and ownership of the T. H. Morgan building.  He did everything he could to accommodate people in the building. In a letter of appreciation sent in 2011, “Mr. Robinson always has a smile and whenever I need anything his answer is “I’ll take care of it” or “I’ll see what I can do.”  Kenny was also a caring father and actively involved in the lives of his two sons and daughter.

Tony Games, Department of Biology Staff (October 19, 2015)

From Michael Adams, Space and Facilities Coordinator:
Tony came to the University in August of 1995. He was a STEPS employee just getting his foot in the door. He finally found a full-time job in the Division of Laboratory Animal Resources. In early 2000, then Biology Chair Chuck Staben and myself hired Tony to help run the teaching and research support laboratory for Biology and help with package receiving and delivery.

I supervised Tony for many years and had grown to respect and care for him. He had an odd since of humor that would take you by surprised. He was also well traveled. In his younger years during a stint in the Army he was stationed abroad. He spoke a little German and Korean and attended the University of Maryland, Munich. But he never forgot Kentucky. He was born and raised in Frankfort. He would tell me stories how he would walk to school and how his mother worked to keep them feed.

He did not have a bountiful childhood. His mother was a single parent raising, I believe, four children.  He bled blue. Only his passion for his family surpassed his passion for UK basketball. He would get visibly upset when UK lost a game. He always wore his UK hat everywhere he went. At his funeral I was not surprised when I approached the casket to pay my respect, low and behold there he was with his UK hat on. So very fitting.

He was survived by his wife of 49 years, Linda, who retired from UK in May of last year and his two children, Michael and Joetta. Joetta graduated from UK with a degree in Social Work.  Tony was an important part of our UK family. He made you smile. He saw things in an unclouded way that kept you on your toes. I do miss him and I think that we are much less without him, I know I am.


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