The passing of Walter Fitch

Walter Fitch passed away on Thursday. Below is Brandon Gaut’s message that was posted to EvolDir. He was truly an intellectual giant in evolutionary biology making key contributions to phylogenetics and molecular evolution.

Dear Colleagues –

I am sorry to report that a beloved member of our campus community,
Dr. Walter Fitch, passed away in his sleep this morning at his home
in University Hills. We will miss him dearly as a friend, as a
colleague, and as a towering intellectual presence.

Walter was born in San Diego in 1929, and earned his Ph.D. in
Comparative Biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley
in 1958. He was a post-doctoral scholar at both Stanford and
University College (London) and held full professorships at the
University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California. He
came to UC Irvine in 1989 as a Distinguished Professor and later
became the Chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Walter was a founding father of the field of molecular evolution, and
established methods for constructing phylogenetic trees from amino
acid and nucleic acid sequences. He also made contributions to
virology, the origin of life, taxonomy, genetics and molecular
biology. For his work he was elected to the National Academy of
Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Linnean
Society (England). He founded the Society for Molecular Biology and
Evolution and was the editor-in-chief of its journal, Molecular
Biology and Evolution for its first 10 years. He contributed mightily
not only to the intellectual process but as a mentor to young scientists.

Walter is survived by his beloved wife, his four children and several
grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.


Brandon Gaut

Professor & Chair

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology