OXFORD, Miss. — Raymond Carl Highsmith, 72, executive director of the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology at the University of Mississippi, died of cancer Wednesday (July 10) at his home in Oxford.
A funeral service is scheduled Friday (July 12) at 2 p.m. at Waller Funeral Home in Oxford, with Alice Clark officiating. Visitation will take place prior to the service from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Interment will be scheduled at a later date in Woodlawn Cemetery in Orlando, Fla.
A marine scientist who dedicated his career to studying seabed oil and gas hydrates, Highsmith joined the university in 2005 as director of NIUST, a partnership between UM and the University of Southern Mississippi. He also served as director of UM’s Field Station and Center for Water and Wetland Resources.
For more than two decades, he had dedicated his career to researching oil spills, natural oil seeps and gas hydrates, most recently in the Gulf of Mexico and previously in Alaska. He was the recipient of numerous grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and many other centers and agencies. His lengthy record of publication and service made him a leader in the marine sciences research community.
In 2010, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Highsmith repurposed a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico to study the incident, a decision that would make his team the first academic cruise to work at the site. His team collected sediments and searched for subsurface oil and gas in the water column, collecting revelatory early data from the spill and paving the way for Highsmith to become the principal investigator of the Ecosystems Impact of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf consortium, which secured unmatched resources to investigate the spill’s aftereffects.
Earlier in his career, Highsmith studied coral in Panama, Belize and in the Pacific, and migrated his focus to amphipods and gray whales in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. He joined the University of Alaska-Fairbanks as a faculty member in marine biology in the early 1980’s. He worked in Seward, Alaska as part of the UAF Institute of Marine Science on intertidal and fjord ecology, providing a foundation for studying the mitigated impact of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound.
His field work took him from the tropics to the Arctic. While at UAF, he organized and directed the Kasitsna Bay Laboratory for marine science research, education and public outreach. In 2007, the facility was renamed in his honor as the Raymond C. Highsmith Laboratory. He also founded and directed the West Coast and Polar Regions Undersea Research Center.
Highsmith earned a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Washington in 1979 and a B.A. in zoology from the University of Iowa in 1972 (Phi Beta Kappa).
“Throughout his career, Ray mentored many scientists and helped to shape the scientific research agenda in marine sciences for decades. He is being remembered by his colleagues for his intelligence, his determination, his thoughtfulness and as a person whose contributions invigorated research programs and enhanced institutions,” saidAlice Clark, Vice Chancellor for Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Mississippi.
“He always had a story to tell and – above all – he valued family and friends. He was a warm-hearted gentleman whose family extended far beyond biological lineages,” said Dr. Michael Castellini, Dean of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at UAF.
He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Luz Hernandez Highsmith of Oxford; two daughters, Terry Highsmith and Dawn Ferguson, both of Hailey, Idaho; three sons, Jun Ueki of Japan, Jeanpierre Saldarriaga of Orlando, Fla. and Bryant Saldarriaga of Fairbanks, Alaska; seven grandchildren and a special niece, Dayni Padilla of Texas.
Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society, 1800 West Main Street, Tupelo, MS 38801.