Former Pharmacy Professor Dennis Frate Dies


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Dennis Frate works with children at a puppet show at the Tutwiler Community Education Center to educate them about the dangers of pesticides in a 2000 Earthwatch Institute project. UM photo by Robert Jordan

OXFORD, Miss. – Dennis A. Frate, 59, former longtime
pharmacy professor at the University of Mississippi, died
Oct. 22 in an automobile accident near his home in


Frate, a medical anthropologist widely known for his
studies of rural health in the Mississippi Delta, joined
the School of Pharmacy faculty in 1980 as an assistant
professor in the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical
Sciences. He left in 2000 to become a professor of
preventive medicine at the UM Medical Center, where he
served until retiring June 30.

During his time in the pharmacy school, Frate served as
coordinator of the Rural Health Research Program and
principal investigator of a National Institutes of
Health-funded study to develop community-based programs to
control high blood pressure in rural populations. He also
conducted studies of prolonged pesticide exposure and its
impact on health.

“Dennis took a lot of pride in being a grass-roots
researcher who actually got out into the field and really
worked with the people he was studying, rather than just
sitting in a lab somewhere and collecting data,” said Ben
Banahan, UM professor of pharmacy administration who worked
closely with Frate. “He didn’t want to be in some ivory
tower. He was very much into studying the medical
anthropology issues of poor people.”

Frate’s work often was characterized by “out of the box”
thinking, said E.M. “Mick” Kolassa, adjunct professor of
pharmacy administration and president of Medical Marketing
Economics in Oxford.

“Working in a number of diverse and complex projects,
Dennis was able to adapt his knowledge base to just about
any situation,” Kolassa said. “Whether we were trying to
understand how a physician reached a decision or how often
residents of the Delta ate fish, Dennis had insights that
were always amazing.”

Former students remember Frate as a caring professor who
made an impact on their lives far beyond the classroom.

“Without any sense of exaggeration, he was the best
instructor I had throughout my graduate education,” said
John Juergens, the pharmacy school’s coordinator of student
professional development and associate professor of
pharmacy administration. “He was so effective in his
teaching that not a day goes by more than 20 years later
that I do not apply some of the ideas and principles he
taught me.

“As a research colleague, I was continually amazed at his
piercing insights into the social, behavioral and cultural
aspects of human health. He taught me what it really means
to be a humanist, and I try to pass that legacy on to those
around me.”

Frate was also a talented musician who once sang in a
do-wop group, Kolassa said. “He was also an accomplished
fisherman and the luckiest poker player I ever met,
although his inherent sincerity prevented him from being a
good bluffer.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from
Miami University, Frate completed master’s and doctoral
degrees in medical anthropology at the University of
Illinois. During his graduate studies, he spent time in the
Delta studying geophagy, the practice of eating dirt.

“It was kind of a running joke we had,” Banahan said.
“Every three or four years, somebody would rediscover the
geophagy article, and Dennis would get a whole new round of
calls from people doing stories on dirt-eating.”

The researcher was even invited to be a guest on “The
Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” to discuss the
practice, but he declined because he did not want the work
taken lightly, Banahan said.

Frate is survived by his wife, Juliet B. Frate, and
daughter Elizabeth. The family requests that memorials be
sent to Tutwiler Clinic Inc., P.O. Box 462, Tutwiler, MS