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Robert J. McIsaac, 95, pharmacology professor, musician, WWII veteran

World War II veteran Robert McIsaac at his home in Amherst Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015.  (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Jan. 9, 1923 – Sept. 9, 2018

Robert J. McIsaac, of Amherst, a professor at the University at Buffalo, musician and World War II veteran, died Sept. 9 in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst. He was 95.

Born into a musical family in Brooklyn, they moved to Ithaca after his father died in 1929. He played clarinet as a child and took up bass violin in high school at the urging of a teacher who thought his long fingers would be well suited to the instrument. He began studying music education at Ithaca College, but World War II intervened.

“Uncle Sam, you might say, saved me from becoming a music teacher,” he told Buffalo News reporter Lou Michel in 2015. “He sent me a draft notice.”

He served in the Army from 1943 to 1946 and was a surgical technician with the 340th Field Artillery Battalion, 89th Infantry Division, in Europe.

In April 1945, he took part in the liberation of Eastern European slave laborers from the concentration camp at Ohrdruf, Germany, the first to be liberated by American forces.

He told Michel that he recalled thinking, “How could anybody treat another person like this? I’d seen a lot of dead soldiers, but never civilians.”

After the war ended, he served as a health officer, providing treatment to Polish and Russian civilians who had survived a slave labor camp near Chemnitz, Germany.

Returning from service, he enrolled at UB under the GI Bill, earning a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and a doctorate in pharmacology at UB. He worked for a short time as a pharmacist, then landed a research position at UB. He taught in UB’s Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Medicine from 1954 to 1985.

He was appointed professor in 1968 and was director of the graduate training program in pharmacology and project director for a National Institutes of Health predoctoral training grant.

He was appointed assistant vice president for research and graduate studies in 1983 and assistant vice provost for research and graduate studies in 1985. He retired in 1988. An annual award for academic excellence in pharmacology and toxicology was established in his honor.

He was awarded a National Institutes of Health fellowship to the Institute of Pharmacology at Lund University in Sweden, in 1966. He also was recipient of numerous NIH grants.

He focused his research on the metabolism of basic drugs and synaptic transmission in autonomic neurons and at the neuromuscular junction. He published 49 scientific articles and authored five chapters in a pharmacology text book.

He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society for Experimental Pharmacology, the International Biopharmacology Society, the Society for Neuroscience and the New York Academy of Sciences.

In retirement, he played bass violin in the Niagara Symphony Orchestra. He also traveled extensively worldwide and gave presentations on his visits to the Galapagos Islands and the Ecuadorean rain forest.

He served for five years on the Amherst Town Board’s Conservation Advisory Council.

Survivors include his wife of 42 years, the former Carol Langner; two sons, James and Gregory; two daughters, Laurie and Heidi Prescott; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A private family service will be held.

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