Roxanne H. Fisher of Point Breeze, a biology professor at Chatham University whose passion for studying plant life became a vehicle to engage undergraduates, died Thursday of cancer at UPMC Shadyside. She was 47.
Dr. Fisher, born in Etters, York County, grew up on a small family farm, a highly suitable environment for someone whose natural curiosity about plants and their life cycle would one day become her life's work.
A 1982 graduate of Swarthmore College, she studied biology and linguistics. She did graduate studies while charting a career in research and teaching, earning a doctoral degree in plant biology from the University of Maryland in 1996, and joining the faculty at Chatham three years later.
Dr. Fisher, an assistant professor, had research specialties that included ferns, Chatham spokesman Paul Kovach said yesterday. She jogged and played the banjo and was active in her neighborhood, even while dividing time between her husband, two small children and a career she loved, family and colleagues said.
The inner workings of fern cells and how cells change over time could be a hard sell in some quarters of a college campus, but Dr. Fisher "was able to convey what was amazing about cells and how they work," leaving students who didn't expect to be interested in the subject hooked nonetheless, said Nancy Gift, a friend and colleague who is acting director of Chatham's Rachel Carson Institute.
"She sort of presented it as a really good puzzle and they got to help her figure it out," she said.
On the campus, her bout with breast cancer that began in 2003 was common knowledge. She arranged cancer treatments around her class schedule and was in the classroom a week before her death.
"She was in the middle of her research and her parenting. To watch her go down when she just wasn't ready was just awful," Dr. Gift said. "There were a lot of tears."
In addition to her husband, Bill Hudson, she is survived by a son Vance, 10, and a daughter Anna, 6; her mother, Florence Fisher, of Etters; a sister Rosalee Nelson of Etters; and a brother, Bob Fisher of Etters.
A campus memorial service is planned for Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Chatham University Chapel. An Afternoon Tea in the Welker Room will follow. Another service will be held in Etters on a date to be announced.
The family has arranged for private funeral services.
Bill Schackner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977.