UNCP holds memorial service for Dr. John E. Reissner


A 30-year UNC Pembroke faculty member was remembered in an April 26 memorial service for his love of science, his humor and for his buoyant spirit.

A professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, Dr. John E. Reissner died Saturday, April 15, 2006, at age 64. Dr. Reissner lived in Wilmington, N.C., and before that in Lumberton, N.C., for many years. He joined the faculty at UNCP in 1976 and continued to teach in the phased retirement program until his death.

His wife, Zollene, and two children, Kate and Steven, attended the afternoon service. In a written statement that was read by Steven, Zollene offered words of comfort to the campus community.

“It is with gratitude today that I think of John’s relationship with UNC Pembroke,” she said. “You have been a caring family to us through the high times and the low times.”

“You shared John’s strong ideals of the value of giving each student the most complete education possible,” Zollene Reissner continued. “I must say this, although after 30 years, you know it for yourself, John really was all the lovely things he seemed to be.”

Dr. Jose D’Arruda, a colleague in the Chemistry and Physics Department for 30 years, said, “We lost a good person and a good friend. John had a humane and sensitive spirit and the gift of language.”

“I don’t think I have ever met a more real person,” Dr. D’Arruda said. “When things were harried, he would always say to Zollene, ‘Don’t worry everything will be alright.’”
Speaking for his students, Chemistry major John Murray said Dr. Reissner was more than a professor.

“We all knew he was brilliant,” Murray said. “But his gift was to inspire the uninspired. Physical chemistry is a difficult subject, but he was so jolly that we enjoyed it while we dreaded it.”


From left: Kate Reissner, Chancellor Allen C. Meadors, Zollene Reissner and Steven Reissner.

Another of his students who found inspiration in science is his daughter, who is completing doctoral studies in neurobiology at the University of California at Irvine.

“Asked if I was influenced by my father to study science, I always said ‘no,’” Kate Reissner said. “My father always told us only to do work you love. My dad loved science, and that’s a gift that my father gave me.”

Dr. Reissner possessed a special quality, said long-time colleague Dr. Jeffery Geller, chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion.

“I call it the Reissner gleam,” Dr. Geller said. “It was more than a smile, it was a radiance from deep within.”

“Everything struck him as an object of playful excitement,” he said. “With the Reissner gleam, the entire environment would light up with him.”

Geology professor Dr. Martin Farley echoed those thoughts, saying, “John was infectiously enthusiastic about all topics - yours and his - and he was knowledgeable in a wide variety of topics.”

Dr. Russell Cherry, an adjunct professor of religion and Dr. Reissner’s pastor at First Baptist Church of Lumberton, N.C., for many years, remembered “the perfect parishioner.”

“He was a preacher’s blessing,” Dr. Cherry said. “He hung on every word, listening thoughtfully and questioning.”

“Gladly would he learn; gladly teach,” Dr. Cherry said, quoting from “The Canterbury Tales.”

Another department colleague, Dr. Dalton Brooks remembered the ultimate Harvard man.

“He took his Harvard education seriously and transplanted those ideas in Pembroke,” Dr. Brooks said. “He epitomized the brilliance a university could bring to its students.”

Chancellor Allen C. Meadors recalled Dr. Reissner as the model faculty member.

“When I think of him, I remember that John always had a good word for everyone,” Chancellor Meadors said. “His legacy is that he was a role model of a caring faculty.”

“He loved science, he loved his students, and he loved his University,” Dr. Meadors said. “He did not just teach, he shared.”

Dr. Reissner was born in Boston, Mass., on December 3, 1941, and was the son of the late M. Eric and Johanna Siegel Reissner. Following his undergraduate education at Harvard University, he received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at San Diego.

The family asks that memorial gifts be directed to the John E. Reissner Memorial Scholarship Fund at UNC Pembroke; or to First Baptist Church of Lumberton; or St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Wilmington.