Houston lost some beloved residents this week, including a longtime volunteer, a school superintendent, and a renowned geneticist who made significant advancements in his field.
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Here are some of the Houston-area residents who are being remembered this week:
Urshula Aiken, 84
Urshula Susan Aiken died January 6, 2022, leaving behind two brothers, four children and two grandchildren, according to her obituary. Aiken was born in West Virginia and later lived in Lexington, Kentucky, then moved to Houston after her children were grown, the obituary says.
“She loved the Houston Astros, the company of family pets, and her community. She made friends wherever she went, touching the hearts of everyone who met her. Proud of her humble upbringing in West Virginia, she enjoyed recounting those memories with her family,” her obituary says.
She often volunteered and supported the Houston community, even before moving to the area, and she assisted in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, the obituary says.
“She had a heart of gold for the homeless, children and animals and to the very end, always thought of others less fortunate than she,” her obituary says.
Robert Burch Jr., 89
Robert Vivian Burch Jr. died January 2, 2022, just shy of his 90th birthday, according to his obituary. He left behind three children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Burch was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Celeste.
Burch was born in Louisiana and raised in Beaumont, Texas. He joined the U.S. Navy shortly after graduating from high school in 1949, and served as quartermaster on the USS Pomodon in Japan during the Korean War, his obituary says. He met his future wife while earning a degree in biology at Lamar State Technical College, now Lamar University, in Beaumont.
He went on to teach biology and chemistry at San Jacinto High School, then worked for Waltrip High School as assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent. He retired in 1983 from his final position as Alief ISD Superintendent after serving 31 years in education, his obituary says. He also held several community positions and was a lifelong golfer.
C. Thomas Caskey, 83
C. Thomas Caskey was a pioneer in genetic research who died January 13, 2022, at age 83 in Houston, according to his obituary.
“Tom was known for his enthusiasm for science, his brilliance, and his ability to identify internationally bright young scientists starting their careers. His laugh, quick wit, and optimism were iconic. The joy of ocean sailboat racing, his family, and his friends were constants in his remarkable life,” his obituary says.
In his early career, he joined the National Institutes of Health and worked in the lab of Marshall Nirenberg in 1965 during his research on the genetic code that would later win the Nobel Prize.
“Caskey conducted critical studies demonstrating the Universality of the Genetic Code (UGC) demonstrating that the code was the same in humans, amphibians, bacteria, and all life on earth. This Universality has led scientists to speculate, perhaps assuming transfer between planets, that any life discovered on Mars would use this same code,” his obituary says.
He joined Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in 1971 and initiated its genetics program that would become the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, his obituary says. His genetics research led to advancements in the understanding of genetic markers in dozens of diseases. His research formed the basis of the FBI Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) used in identifying and excluding crime suspects, and he received the Courage in DNA Award from the U.S. Department of Justice for that research, his obituary says. He also led efforts that resulted in new treatments for HIV and was involved in the discovery of the SARS virus.