In Memoriam: Ralph Peter Eckerlin, PhD

Posted 15 February 2024

The Society mourns the loss of longtime member Ralph Peter Eckerlin, PhD, of Annandale, VA, on February 9, 2024. He joined ASTMH in 1969 and become an Emeritus Member in 2005. Dr. Eckerlin is survived by his wife of 44 years, Mary Peay Eckerlin, his daughters, Laura Inlow of Manhattan Beach, CA (Dan) and Linda Wiersch of Mooresville, N.C. (John), and his grandsons, Kevin (Jordan) and Connor Inlow. 

Dr. Eckerlin was born in February of 1938 in New York. He obtained his BA in Biological Sciences from Rutgers University in 1960, and an MS in Zoology from the University of Miami in 1962.  His doctoral studies at the University of Connecticut were put on hold for several years so he could raise his family after the early death of his first wife, Joyce, but he completed his PhD in Parasitology and Zoology in 1975.

In 1971, Dr. Eckerlin joined the faculty at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) where he taught general biology, human anatomy and physiology, health science, and invertebrate zoology for 41 years, remaining on as Professor Emeritus after his 2012 retirement. He led annual study trips for NVCC students to share his passion and contagious enthusiasm for biology. His students at all levels praised his unique ability to make difficult concepts understandable and to have fun doing it. In 1979 he married his present wife, Mary. Dr. Eckerlin was awarded the Virginia State Council of Higher Education’s Outstanding Faculty Award in 2009. He was an Adjunct professor at George Washington University from 1980 to 2004, teaching his true passion, Parasitology, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

In addition to being a gifted teacher, Dr. Eckerlin was a prolific researcher and writer, collecting and describing at least six new species, including tapeworms and fleas, in the U.S., Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala. He authored over 70 peer-reviewed publications in various scientific journals, a biology laboratory manual, multiple book chapters, and edited a volume on Appalachian Biogeography for the Virginia Museum of Natural History. He was a world-renown flea specialist. He is the co-author of an exhaustive compendium, The Siphonaptera (fleas) of North America, soon to be published in the Annals of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. 

Dr. Eckerlin was active in at least 13 other professional societies, holding offices in most. He served as president of the Entomological Society of Washington, Helminthological Society of Washington, Virginia Academy of Science, Virginia National History Society, and the Tropical Medicine Society of Washington. He became a member of the prestigious Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 2000, serving as president from 2017 to 2021. After retirement, he was a Research Assistant at the Smithsonian Institute of Natural History. In the ultimate scientific honor, a flea and a shrew have been named after him.

Dr. Eckerlin was most proud of his family, and fully appreciated Mary’s unwavering love and support. Their annual Groundhog’s Day party featuring “Punxsutawney Ralph,” a stuffed groundhog hoisting a Schaeffer beer, was legendary. He loved jokes and limericks, trips to the Chincoteague house, his cats, and a good cocktail. He touched many lives personally and professionally.

Information provided by Dr. Eckerlin's family.