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Dr. Donald Newsom Downer, age 79, died at his residence in Starkville, Mississippi, on December 21, 2023, following an extended illness. A memorial service will be held Saturday, January 27, 2024, at 11:00 am at First United Methodist Church in Starkville, with visitation from 9:30 – 11:00 am. The service will be officiated by Rev Paul D. Kern, Don’s brother-in-law, and assisted by Dr. Giles Lindley.
Don was born in Lexington, Mississippi, on July 2, 1944, to Kenneth Farr (Pete) Downer and Connie Gelston Downer. He was preceded in death by his parents and grandparents, his brother, Dr. John G. Downer, and many special aunts and uncles.
He is survived by his beloved wife of 51 years, Jackie Kern Downer; three treasured sons, Ken Downer (Beth) of Asheville, NC, Dee Downer (DeAndra) of Norman, OK, and Philip Downer (Natalie Davies) of Austin, TX; six grandchildren, Angie Bradley (Will), Lindsey Hang (Franklin), Bekah Downer, and Ashley Downer, all of the Asheville, NC area; Dylan Crowley and Alex Crowley of Norman, OK; four great grandchildren, Madison Bradley, Emory and Kai Hang, and Frankie Crowley; sister-in-law Pam Downer of Ridgeland, Mississippi; two aunts, Mrs. Reba Lewis of Jackson, MS, and Mrs. Audean Gelston of Kosciusko, MS; and many loving nieces, nephews, and cousins.
After graduation from Lexington High School in 1962, he attended the University of Mississippi graduating in 1966 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. He received a Ph.D in Microbiology from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1971, after which he received a Postdoctoral Fellowship and Sessional Lectureship in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he was involved in Virology research and teaching in the medical school.
In 1978, Don accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Microbiology at Mississippi State University in the Department of Biological Sciences. He was involved in research, teaching, advising and many university committee assignments. He served as Chairman of The Robert Benton Holland Memorial Faculty Council in 1987-88 and received the Burlington Northern Foundation Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1988-89. He was named Department Head of Biological Sciences in July of 1993, a position he held until June of 2004. He then returned to teaching and advising, the two major loves of his academic career. He was the Adviser for students in the Pre-Med and Allied Health Programs, and many students from other disciplines who came to him for advice.
For his contributions he was recognized in 2005 as one of the first two recipients of the Irvin Atly Jefcoat Exellence in Advising Award. He went on that year to be among only 10 collegiate faculty members nationally to receive awards in competition sponsored by the Kansas-based National Academic Advising Association. He received the Friend of the MSU Student Association, the Donna Mayowski Award, in 2008. Don retired as Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at Mississippi State University in June of 2008. In 2015, he was selected as the second recipient of The Robert E Wolverton Legacy Award presented by the College of Arts and Sciences in appreciation of long standing and significant contributions to the College.
He was a member of First United Methodist Church of Starkville where he taught Senior High Sunday School for ten years; and he was an active member for many years with the Starkville Optimist Club, participating in all of its activities for the youth of the community.
The family expresses their appreciation to Ryland Care Giving Service of West Point, Mississippi, Mississippi Home Care of Starkville, and to all the healthcare professionals who administered to his needs over the years.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in Don’s honor to the Dr. Don Downer Undergraduate Research Endowment Fund held within the Department of Biological Sciences at Mississippi State University. Gifts can be made through the MSU Foundation, Inc. website or through mail to the MSU Foundation , Inc., P.O. Box 6149, MS State, MS 39762; or First United Methodist Church, 200 West Lampkin Street, Starkville, MS; or a charity of your choice.
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