Feb. 19, 1941 – Feb. 2, 2017
Dr. Peter A. Nickerson taught for nearly 50 years in the University at Buffalo's department of pathology and anatomical sciences, and in all that time his most popular course might have been an honors seminar he taught for several years called, "What They Died From."
A Buffalo police homicide investigator walked the students through a crime scene investigation. A UB law professor talked to the class about why people commit murder.
And each week, Dr. Nickerson provided the students the name of a figure from the past, before asking them to research who the person was and how that person died. One week it was President William McKinley and the next it was the singer Karen Carpenter.
"It was a celebration of history and medicine," said Reid Heffner, Dr. Nickerson's close friend and a distinguished teaching professor in the same department. "He gave the students a lot of responsibility."
Dr. Nickerson, whose long tenure at UB included several terms as chair of the UB Faculty Senate, died of blood clots in his lungs on Feb. 2 in Heathwood Assisted Living, Amherst. The retired professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in UB's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences was 75.
Dr. Nickerson was born in Harwich, Mass., and earned a bachelor's degree from Brown University and a master's degree and a Ph.D. from Clark University, where he was a NASA pre-doctoral fellow.
He was recruited to join UB's faculty in 1967 by the chair of his department at the time. Pathologists study diseases and the mechanisms of diseases.
Dr. Nickerson was known for his research into high blood pressure in the lungs or the body itself. He studied the different reactions of normal and abnormal blood pressures on tissues, and how he could quantify the results. Dr. Nickerson authored or co-authored 65 publications in his field.
In addition to his honors seminar, he also was well known for a pathology course he taught for many years to dental students at UB. "He was tough," said Heffner, his friend and colleague. "He really rode herd on the dental students. He had very high standards."
Dr. Nickerson was well-liked by his students and many kept in touch with him long after they completed their course work. He was director of Pathology Graduate Studies from 1974 to 2015 and developed innovative initiatives such as the Medical School's early admission program. He retired in March 2015.
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Nickerson immersed himself in university life. He served on dozens of departmental, university and State University of New York committees over the years.
He was chair of the Medical Faculty Council, a SUNY senator, president of the SUNY-Buffalo chapter of Sigma Xi and chair, for five terms, of the UB Faculty Senate.
"That was his life," Heffner said, noting that Dr. Nickerson never married and never had children. "He spent, I'm serious, seven days a week at the university."
Dr. Nickerson lived for many years on Windermere Boulevard, near the UB South Campus where the Medical School is located, and as a young faculty member walked to work, Heffner said.
When he wasn't on campus, he enjoyed socializing with friends, and most of them were connected in some way to the university.
Dr. Nickerson loved to read and to watch vintage movies. When he took ill several years ago, and Heffner came over to help Dr. Nickerson move out of his home, his primary concern was what would happen to all of his books. Heffner ended up donating them.
Dr. Nickerson also was active in the wider community. He was a member and former president of the Western New York Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Heffner said Dr. Nickerson's mother had Alzheimer's and he developed dementia in the last three years of his life.
Dr. Nickerson had no immediate survivors. A university official said his friends and colleagues at UB were his family.
The university is planning a memorial service after classes resume in the fall.