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MU professor Dr. Beryl Ortwerth was devoted to friends, eye research, traveling

Monday, November 18, 2013 | 5:59 p.m. CST; updated 9:57 p.m. CST, Monday, November 18, 2013

COLUMBIA — Dr. Beryl Ortwerth was devoted to his work as a professor in the Ophthalmology Department at MU. He was committed to preventing blindness and other eye diseases.

He also dedicated himself to his friends, who were like family to him. 

"It was our special little group of friends and family," said his friend Rachel Swekosky. "He was always so welcoming and gracious."

Dr. Ortwerth was found dead at his lake house in Lake of the Ozarks on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013.  The exact date of his death is unclear, but it was due to natural causes, family friend Greg Mermelstein said.

Dr. Ortwerth was born Aug. 13, 1937, in St. Louis to Joseph and Estelle Ortwerth.

After getting his bachelor's degree in chemistry from St. Louis University in 1959, Dr. Ortwerth earned a master's degree in 1962 and Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1965, both from MU. He spent two years in postdoctoral training at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee before returning to Columbia in 1968.

In 1968, he became an assistant professor at MU. He spent the next 40 years conducting research on cataract formation, receiving $8 million in grants, some from the National Institutes of Health, Swekosky said.

Dr. Ortwerth was named the department's director of research in 1992 and kept that title until 2000. He retired as professor emeritus in 2008.

Swekosky's husband, Russell, grew up with Dr. Ortwerth in St. Louis, where they went to the same grade school and were in the same Boy Scouts troop. They traveled to every state in the U.S. together, starting their journey in Philadelphia in 1958.

Traveling was one of Dr. Ortwerth's biggest passions, Swekosky said.

"He was very well-traveled and would speak in different countries about his research," Swekosky said. His family said his most memorable trip was driving from Columbia to the Panama Canal and back in 1968.

Dr. Ortwerth is survived by his niece, Mary Susan Lampert, and her husband, Douglas Lampert.

His brother, Marvin, died earlier.

Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to noon Wednesday, followed by services at noon Wednesday at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W. Interment will be in Memorial Park Cemetery.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Beryl J. Ortwerth Endowed Research Fund, c/o Curators of University of Missouri, 316 University Hall, Columbia, MO 65211.

Condolences can be posted at memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com

Supervising editor is Richard Webner.


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