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USM prof ‘Dr. Bob’ remembered for his easy laugh, work with GRCL

Dr. Robert Thomas 'Bob' van Aller is shown in this undated photo at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he was a professor of chemistry and dean of graduates. He also had been interim director of the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs. van Aller grew up in Gulfport.
Dr. Robert Thomas 'Bob' van Aller is shown in this undated photo at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he was a professor of chemistry and dean of graduates. He also had been interim director of the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs. van Aller grew up in Gulfport.

Robert Thomas “Bob” van Aller will be remembered as a down-to-earth Southern gentleman who loved the Mississippi Coast’s marine resources and loved to sail and fish its waters.

He died in his sleep Dec. 1 in Hattiesburg at the age of 83.

He was a longtime professor of chemistry at the University of Southern Mississippi and dean of its graduate school. And many know him for his work with USM’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, based in Ocean Springs.

GCRL performs scientific research on the Coast’s marine habitat, including fisheries and bays. He was its interim director from 1994 through 1996, while also serving as a USM dean.

GCRL senior research scientists James Franks and Harriet Perry said they’re remembering how van Aller valued their input, made decisions quickly and effectively, and had a great sense of humor.

“We considered him to be not only our ‘boss’ but also a colleague and friend,” Franks said. Van Aller also served on marine resource and oceanographic committees in Washington.

He loved to hunt, fish and swim and sail yachts designed by his son, Geoff van Aller.

“He was never stuffy,” said CJ Sims, his former administrative assistant. “He was polite, genuine and humble. He always asked, never told me what to do, and never failed to say thank you. Sometimes he would appear in the office with his wife or his dog beside him — both were welcome.”

Sims said she will always remember “how easy and hard he could laugh. I swear his blue eyes would sparkle when he laughed.

“Lab people genuinely liked him and respected him.”

Both van Aller and his wife, Beverly, had asked Sims to just call him Bob.

“I just couldn’t do it,” Sims said. “So we settled on Dr. Bob, and our friendship lasted through the years, mostly through emails.”

He would send Sims and her husband, Hawk, emails warning of severe weather headed their way. She would tell him about the turkeys walking through her backyard.

He loved the Alabama football team. Before games, he would send Sims an email with two words: “Roll Tide.” And he would send her emails in honor of her team: “Go Buckeyes.”

Said Sims, “In the future, while watching either my Buckeyes or his Crimson Tide, I will lift my glass high and offer a robust toast to Dr. Bob, always adding ‘Go Buckeyes’ or ‘Roll Tide.’ I know he’ll understand if it’s not in the same game.”

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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