In Memoriam: Jerrells, Thomas Ray

In Memoriam: Jerrells, Thomas Ray


We are sad to share with fellow members of the American Society for Microbiology that Thomas Ray Jerrells, Ph.D., died May 22, 2018. He retired as Professor of Immunology from the University of Nebraska Medical Center-Omaha in November 2011, after 36 years (1976-2011) of research.

Far from his ultimate career destiny, at the young age of 14 years Tom entered the world of the competitive sport rodeo as a bull, saddle bronc, and bareback rider. He competed at both collegiate and professional levels until he elected to put rodeo life aside for marriage, undergraduate studies, and, shortly thereafter, the Vietnam War. Tom was a rich storyteller, and he shared many a rodeo story with colleagues, friends, and family during his lifetime.

Tom volunteered his service in the U.S. Army (1966-1970), a Veteran of the Vietnam War – a status he learned to embrace later in life. Time in the military and influential mentors gave his life not only a new direction, but also a new-found passion.

TJ (as many knew him) subsequently launched his scientific career by obtaining his bachelor’s (University of Arizona), master’s, and Ph.D. (Washington State University) in 6 years (1970-1976). He considered himself an infectious diseases immunologist, beginning with his Ph.D. dissertation, “Immunity to Coxiella burnetii: In Vitro and In Vivo Parameters,” under the direction of Drs. David Hinrichs and Louis Mallavia. After graduating, Tom took a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Ronald Herberman at the NCI, through an appointment at Litton Bionetics, Inc. In the mid-1980s he turned his research direction to the effects of alcohol consumption on host immunity. Tom subsequently conducted his research in several institutions, including the Department of Rickettsial Diseases, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research; as Associate Professor, University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston; Professor, Louisiana State University Medical Center-Shreveport; Professor, College of Pharmacy, Washington State University, where he was also Director of the Pharmacology/Toxicology Graduate Program; and Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center-Omaha.

Dr. Jerrells was a long-time member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), and served as Chair of ASM’s Immunology Division (Division E), 1998-1999. He was honored to have been selected as Chair, and he worked diligently and carefully in execution of the tasks. He was also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society for Rickettsiology, The American Association of Immunologists, Society for Leukocyte Biology, Research Society on Alcoholism, and International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism, among many other professional organizations.

Dr. Jerrells was one of three co-founders of the Alcohol and Immunology Research Interest Group (AIRIG), which he personally nurtured for many years.  AIRIG has continued to meet every year since its founding.  He was Editor-in-Chief of Alcohol: An International Biomedical Journal (1999-2005), and during this tenure he was also a member of the International Society of Addiction Journal Editors, Council of Science Editors, and American Medical Writers Association. Tom supported research through numerous consulting positions, editorial boards, editorships, journal peer review, and committees, and he served on many NIH study section panels throughout his career.

Tom accumulated more than 250 peer-reviewed journal publications, book chapters, and scientific meeting abstracts in his name and mentored many of the next generation’s great scientific minds. Many of his graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who trained with him are now leading investigators in their respective fields.

TJ was a modern-day Renaissance man who enjoyed all that life had to offer. Among those things were cooking and home brewing, running (including the John F. Kennedy 50 Mile Run), triathlon and other ultra competitions, music, backpacking, hunting, fishing, cold beer, flying single engine planes and gliders, skiing (water/snow), discussing the vagaries of life, the New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers, poetry, his pets, and above all, his family. He loved philosophy, ethics, challenging dogma, the Socratic and Scientific methods. He hated ignorance and hypocrisy. He was a renowned distributor of knowledge, coaching motivation, home brew, and jambalaya.

Friends can visit The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration to learn about the disease that took him from us and make a donation in his name (

From the Family of Dr. Thomas Ray Jerrells: Janice Jerrells (wife of 53 years) and daughter Jennifer, son-in-law Nick, and granddaughters Cassie and Abby Strachota.