W. Edward Highsmith Jr., Ph.D. -- Rochester

May 27, 2018 GMT

Dr. William Edward “Ed” Highsmith passed away Tuesday, May 22, 2018, at the age of 63, from a heart attack at his home. He was born on Aug. 2, 1954, in Gadsden, Ala., to university academics Dr. William Edward Highsmith and Allene Sugg Highsmith.

Raised as a faculty brat on the newly-fledged campus of UNC Asheville, he graduated in 1973, from Asheville Country Day School (now Carolina Day School). He earned a chemistry degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, a master’s and a Ph.D. in pathology and clinical chemistry from LSU, and was a postdoctoral Fellow at Baylor and UNC Hospitals.

A career educator and lab researcher, he taught genetics and pathology at UNC, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and The Mayo Clinic. With Mayo since 2002, Highsmith was Co-Director of the Genomics Laboratory and was Program Director for the Clinical Molecular Genetics Fellowship.

Highsmith’s career in molecular genetics included publication of hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, books, book chapters and abstracts. He held leadership roles in the American Association for Clinical Chemistry and the Association for Molecular Pathology. Presenting at national and international scientific conferences, he was equally popular for speaking and for his pre- and post-meeting socializing.

With deep knowledge of cystic fibrosis, familial amyloidoses, and mitochondrial disorders (“genetics would make a fine hobby,” he often said), his other interests included history, SCUBA diving, UNCA Bulldog and Carolina Tarheel basketball, bragging on his niece and nephew, and hosting Scotch whiskey tastings and large mammal roasts for colleagues and friends.

Highsmith was widely known for his legendary parties, and a zany and eclectic necktie collection. He made friends instantly, and colleagues counted upon him for a brilliant thought, a selfless gesture, a ready smile and hearty laugh, and a colorful story (often at the same time).

He was a beloved mentor to multiple generations of undergraduate and graduate students, residents and fellows. He was loved by trainees, staff and colleagues for his relaxed yet incisive teaching style, his passion for life and all things science, and his sense of humor.

He is survived by his brother, John Highsmith DDS and wife, Sandra Hayes of Waynesville, N.C.; nephew, Mark Highsmith of Charlotte; and niece, Becky Highsmith of Atlanta. Ed’s family pays special tribute to his network of friends and colleagues at Mayo and across the country.

A private inurnment is planned in North Carolina at a later date. The family will receive friends from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at Mahn Family Funeral Home’s Rochester Chapel, 1624 37th St. NW, Rochester. All of Ed’s friends are invited the next day to a festive, New Orleans-themed “Celebration of Life” luncheon party honoring Ed from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 3, at the Blue Moon Ballroom, 2030 U.S. Highway 14 East, Rochester.

For memorial tributes, the family invites consideration of Ed’s charities: The UMDF (United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation), umdf.org, 8085 Saltsburg Road Suite 201, Pittsburgh, PA 15239, UNC Asheville’s Allene Highsmith Memorial Endowment (called ‘The Beer Fund’ by family) or UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Distinguished Visiting Scholar Fund, UNC Asheville, One University Heights, Asheville NC 28804. giving@unca.edu.

Friends may share a memory at www.mahnfamilyfuneralhome.com.