Tribute: Lawrence R. Pomeroy

April 6, 2020

Portrait of Larry Pomeroy

Lawrence R. Pomeroy, Alumni Foundation Professor Emeritus of Ecology at the University of Georgia, passed away peacefully on March 26, 2020, in Burlington, North Carolina. He was 94.

“Larry Pomeroy was one of the most influential ecologists of our time,” said John L. Gittleman, dean of the Odum School of Ecology and UGA Foundation Professor. “He changed the way we understand nutrient cycling, particularly through the concept of the microbial loop. His work had an impact beyond academia too, contributing to the protection given to Georgia’s coastal ecosystems. Despite his achievements, he was a sincerely modest, kind and generous person. He will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.” Read More


Tribute: Lawrence R. Pomeroy

by Christopher F. D’Elia, PhD ’74, and R. Eugene Turner, PhD ’75

We have both known Larry Pomeroy for nearly 50 years, but in slightly different ways[1]; we continue to learn from him. As one of the most influential ecologists and oceanographers of our era, this remarkably insightful person transformed modern ecological thought.  He has been regarded as a leader throughout his long career, although intentionally more so of thought than of institutions. He has paid very keen attention to a broad array of scientific issues and has published and sparred constructively with some of the leading ecologists and oceanographers of our day.

The breadth of his research and knowledge is awesome. A native of Pass-a-Grille Beach, Florida, he is a graduate of St. Petersburg High School.  He attended the University of Michigan, where he got both B.S. and M.S. degrees.  He did his Ph.D. work at Rutgers with Hal Haskins, a noted authority on oysters. His first Science paper was on phosphorus cycling, and there was another on the temperature limits of Arctic food webs. His subsequent work turned the nutrient cycling perspectives on that element inside out: rather than being a slow turnover mediated by bacteria and larger organism excretion, it was incredibly fast and mediated by the smallest and inconspicuous organisms. His classic 1974 BioScience paper on the “microbial loop” threw understanding of the trophic dynamics of the ocean “for a loop.” In fact, “The Microbial Loop Symposium” was organized in 1993 to honor his enormous contributions to aquatic microbiology.  He was one of the first to promote and use high-quality food web modeling, bringing to fruition syntheses of salt marsh ecosystems function.  He had a continuing interest in the connections between continental shelf waters and both estuarine and deeper waters. R.E. Johannes and he organized and led the two month, 25-scientist Symbios Expedition to Enewetak Atoll. During this landmark event in coral reef science, ironically, he and his postdoc Jim Alberts almost lost their lives when their outboard motor failed and their boat drifted seven miles from the R/V Alpha Helix.

Georgia Marine Biological Laboratory 1959
The Georgia Marine Biological Laboratory was renamed the UGA Marine Institute in 1959. Robert A. Ragotzkie is its resident director, soon joined by faculty members Lawrence R. Pomeroy, Ted Starr and John Teal

He was Director of the Sapelo Island Marine Institute, where its primary vessel was named “Janet” after his late wife whom he adored. (It was probably a ploy to keep her at Sapelo longer). He taught his students by example that it was rarely necessary to go much further than the hardware store for supplies or to your backyard pond to learn something about the fundamentals of how ecosystems work. His few expensive toys were simply a means to get an answer, for Larry believes in a data-rich and thoughtful analysis. He always seems unconstrained by what was “supposed” to be the understanding of things, especially if was different from what his experience is. If he sees what is really going on, as he did with the role of microbes earlier than almost everyone, he never gives up even when other prominent scientists scoff, which they do at their own peril.

Larry’s classroom lectures and professional meeting presentations are always well-prepared, perceptive, and embedded with a sense of quiet enthusiasm. He doesn’t arm-wave or entertain, but he does challenge students and audience in his low-key way.  Few people are as capable of bringing out the intellectual side of science in a way that advances the science and promotes openness to the questions lying unanswered beneath the superficial surface of grantsmanship and augmenting a C.V. His writing skills are exceptionally well-honed. In private conversations, he is as honest as he is helpful, while accommodating critical remarks from those of alternative views. He does not mince words and does not tolerate fools easily. As someone about him; “When Larry talks, people listen.” As he says, “it is better to hear it from your friends beforehand, than from the critics after it is published and cannot be changed.”

He has a sharp and wry sense of humor. Once he succinctly and humorously stopped an audience of microbial ecologists from going into a cul-de-sac of logical superfluity by trenchantly pointing out that their focus was on the microbes in the ungulate’s stomach, rather than why the cow was in the pasture in the first place. Although as students we were not particularly grateful when we were the brunt of his sardonic critiques, we now wouldn’t have had it any other way.


[1] RET was his Ph.D. student, and he chaired CFD’s reading committee.


A Video Tribute: Professor Pomeroy


Photo gallery


A Short Story by Lawrence R. Pomeroy

Read “Wye Goodie,” a short story by Professor Pomeroy.


Memorial Page