Please RSVP for Ed's Celebration of Life Party. (copy and paste this link)

Dr. William Edward “Ed” Highsmith passed away suddenly at his home of cardiovascular complications on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 at the age of 63. He was born on August 2, 1954 in Gadsden, Alabama to university academics Dr. William “Bill” Edward Highsmith and Allene Sugg Highsmith. 

Raised on the newly-established 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 masters and a PhD 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.   At Mayo, Highsmith was also Co-Director of the Genomics Laboratory and served as Program Director for the Clinical Molecular Genetics Fellowship.  He was a beloved mentor to multiple generations of undergraduate and graduate students, residents and fellows, and was cherished by trainees, staff, and colleagues alike for his relaxed yet incisive teaching style, his passion for life and all things science, and his incredible sense of humor. 

Highsmith had a prolific career in molecular genetics, publishing hundreds of peer reviewed articles, books, book chapters, and abstracts, and making numerous presentations at national and international conferences for various professional societies.  He held active leadership positions in a number of these organizations, such as the American Association for Clinical Chemistry and the Association for Molecular Pathology.   He was a popular speaker at meetings worldwide, and was equally popular for his pre- and post-meeting socializing.  

In addition to cystic fibrosis, familial amyloidoses, and mitochondrial disorders – “genetics would make a fine hobby,” he would often say – Highsmith’s 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.  Like the man himself, Highsmith’s parties were legendary, as was his zany and eclectic collection of neckties.  There was hardly a person whom Ed came across that he didn’t instantly befriend, and he could always be counted upon for a brilliant thought, a selfless gesture, an instant smile, a hearty laugh, and a colorful story or two, often all at the same time.   

He is survived by his brother, Dr. John Highsmith and wife Sandra Hayes of Waynesville NC, 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. 

The Highsmith family will receive friends on Saturday, June 2, 2018 from 2-4pm at Mahn Family Funeral Home, Rochester Chapel, 1624 37th Street. NW in Rochester, MN 55901.  Friends are invited to a festive, New Orleans-themed “Celebration of Life” luncheon party with live music in Ed’s honor  on Sunday, June 3, 2018,  from 11am to 4pm at Blue Moon Ballroom,  2030 Hwy 14 East, Rochester, MN 55904.

For memorial tributes, the family invites consideration of Ed’s three charities: The UMDF (United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation),, 8085 Saltsburg Road Suite 201, Pittsburgh, PA 15239; UNC Asheville’s Allene and William E Highsmith Distinguished Visiting Scholar Fund; and the Allene Highsmith Memorial Endowment (nicknamed “The Beer Fund” by family), UNC Asheville, One University Heights, Asheville NC 28804.

Posted by John Highsmith on 8th June 2018
From Phil Price, North Carolina: I enjoyed my limited chats with him dating back to '92 or so when Allene was still at the Reynolds Place home by Beaver Dam Lake. Had time allowed that we'd have explored many topics over whisky. I do think he'd be disappointed to see Scotch misspelled on his obit as whiskey though. Best to John and your two offspring. At least they had a one-of-a-kind uncle. No one boring ever came out of that household, nor the one you and John created. P
Posted by John Highsmith on 2nd June 2018
Pulled from a transcript of "John's" farewell to the group at Mayo, as he paid tribute to Ed and Stefan: To Ed: I can't place value on our relationship over the last years. I have secretly been sponging up the broad knowledge which you have demonstrated to me, and from it have become more informed of the science we share. Funny to be a student and an "uncle" at the same time, but as the Mayo boys state here and there on the campus, once one has committed to our profession, we will always be students. Your knowledge is just part of what you have favored me with.You are a true friend of the best sort, and I will hold on to your friendship forever. And finally, you are a wit with few peers. I will miss board meetings and the attendant bandy, but will try to catch a few to keep me smiling through that day. Thank you Ed.
Posted by Laura Courteau on 30th May 2018
Ed was a kind and considerate guy! He always made me feel valuable and appreciated. He was a super fun guy - we had fun whatever we did. He introduced me to sushi - which I still love today. I will miss his clever remarks and thoughtfulness. The world is a little darker without him.
Posted by Jennifer Winters on 26th May 2018
Please take a moment to RSVP for Ed' Celebration of Life Party.
Posted by Julie Cunningham on 25th May 2018
I will so miss the good humor, the chuckle and oh, those wonderful playful ties, but most of all, the person he was
Posted by Mark Garner on 24th May 2018
"This life of ours To what shall I compare it? 'Ere I can say it is like A lightning bolt, or a drop of dew, It is no more...." I was shocked to hear that Ed has passed. I first met Ed in the early 1990’s when he was working at AT Biochem and I was on staff at NIH. Ever since we had kept in touch as collaborators and staunch friends along our winding career and life paths. His commitment to the highest standards of science never got in the way of his good humour and sense of the absurd. Working with him was always a delight, even more so knocking back a beer or two over wide-ranging discussions of everything under the sun. Undoubtedly he leaves a big hole at the Mayo Clinic. And an even bigger one in all our hearts….
Posted by Jean Amos Wilson on 24th May 2018
I have known Ed for 25+ years. Simply put, I adored him and will miss him.
Posted by Karen Weck on 24th May 2018
I have known Ed for over 10 years, at first seeing him once or twice a year at molecular genetics meetings, and later collaborating and serving on committees with him. Seeing him always brightened my day, and I looked forward to sharing anecdotes and having a laugh or two. Ed had a great sense of humor and great enthusiasm for life and work. He is one of the few people I have met whose love for his work was infectious and inspiring. I am most thankful for how he always reminded me of what I love about our field – it’s all about the science! We also shared a love of North Carolina, especially the mountains where he was from. He often mentioned that working at UNC was so fun he couldn’t believe they paid him for it. He was a unique individual and force of nature. I will miss seeing him very much.
Posted by Ravinder Singh on 24th May 2018
I am still in shock and it will take time to accept that Ed will not be there...
Posted by Jennifer Winters on 23rd May 2018
Maybe it was because he was so humble and sweet, but every time I talked to Ed, I would give him some kind of compliment (that was well-deserved). "Ed, how is it even possible that you are this smart AND this funny?" "Ed, how the heck do you know all of this stuff, you are like a walking encyclopedia." "Ed, your brain is the 8th wonder of the world." "Ed, you should write a book, you will be depriving the human race of your knowledge and humor if you don't." He would always laugh at me and say, "Awe Shucks" or "Oh stop, you are making me blush."
Posted by Jennifer Winters on 23rd May 2018
Whenever I worked on projects with Ed, I was always extra motivated to come up with 'cool' ideas so I might be given “fonzie points” by him. These were not given out easily. If you got fonzie points, you “done good.”
Posted by Kate Kotzer on 23rd May 2018
I've worked with Ed indirectly for 10 years, but more recently started working more directly with him on a test for a very complicated and dreaded gene, CYP21A2. Ed was one of the rare individuals brave enough to tackle this complex test, and he did it brilliantly, of course. We recently had a case together with a genotype he had not seen before and he said in an email "I had not seen a homozyg 30 kb deletion before – so I was all like wha….!". I laughed out loud at his message. It is these types of interactions that make one's day a little more fun, and I will miss Ed for this aspect of his personality. Such a loss for our Mayo colleagues.
Posted by Kristen M on 23rd May 2018
I never met Ed personally, but his ties always brought a smile to my face and made me happy. I'm so sorry for his passing.
Posted by David Bosler on 23rd May 2018
I remember lots of long, interesting and insightful conversations with Ed (including both during AND after fellowship). It is clear that education was a way of life for him, and that he continued to view former fellows as both his charges and colleagues. It was a privilege to know him and learn from him. The world is a little poorer now without him, but we are blessed by the impact of his presence. The santa tie pic is now on my desktop BTW - thanks Jennifer Winters!
Posted by Yuan Ji on 23rd May 2018
Ed is such an unique character who is hard to forget. Without many words, Ed is a very thorough, thoughtful, and encouraging mentor, who can be very funny sometimes! I am always in debt to Ed for accepting me into the competitive ABMGG clinical fellowship, which changed my career and life to a much exciting direction, and for his forwarding me the job ad. about a position at ARUP Laboratories where I have been happily working for near 3 years. I remember what Ed told me on the very first day of fellowship that “no matter who you were before, be humble and learn from everyone even they are technicians without those advanced degrees you have...”. That mindset sounded a little cold at the beginning but is extremely valuable that I have carried it throughout fellowship to now, which allows me to consider each person around is a potential teacher who can teach me something I don’t know. I am passing it to my current trainees. Dear Dr. Highsmith, you will be deeply missed, together with all the memories, e.g., your CF lectures, weekly reviews of Thomson Thomson text book for preparing me for the board exam, annual Molgen lab mammal roasting party in your house, and your wisdom and humors. Rest in peace, Ed... :(
Posted by Dawn Nieman on 23rd May 2018
Although, I didn’t know him very well my fondest memories were those obtained in the cafeteria. Now imagine how loud the cafeteria can be on a busy lunch hour. Amongst all the noise, Dr. Highsmith’s voice and laughter could easily be distinguished. Looking in that direction you would find a full table of his colleagues laughing. Not just any laughing but the laughing so hard tears would be flowing from their eyes and issues of catching their breath would be discovered. I would often wonder what he had said to get such a response and wonder if they would notice me pulling up a seat. Laughter is something we don’t see as often as we should and I am so happy that he could enlighten us even if we weren’t close enough to hear the details. These experiences would make my day. The laughter that surrounds you will be missed as will the great man who extracted it.
Posted by Joan Gordon on 23rd May 2018
Oh Ed, we will all miss you so much! Kind, brilliant and so dryly hilarious! You are truly irreplaceable.
Posted by Kasinathan Muralidhara. on 23rd May 2018
I remember Ed for his gentle approach and distinct voice. Glad that our paths crossed in AMP committees and meetings. He will missed!
Posted by Narasimhan Nagan on 23rd May 2018
I will miss Ed Highsmith. In his passing, the genetics and diagnostics community has lost a good friend, mentor, colleague, and a solid professional. I attended his job interview lecture at the Mayo Clinic, back when i was a fellow. He was liked by all. I remember training with him as a fellow on all aspects of being a genetics professional. He had a great sense of humor and we will miss his large heart, warm and gentle personality. I owe a lot to him. His loss adds to the list of glowing professionals such as Karen Snow Bailey, who made a big difference in the field as leading edge molecular diagnosticians of their time at the Mayo Clinic. May his soul rest in peace in its heavenly abode. Take care, Ed.....Simhan
Posted by Syed Ahmed on 23rd May 2018
RIP Ed. He was such a wonderful delightful person . Always a pleasure to be around. Full of ideas and laughter .. His signature qs when ever I approached his office "what can you do for me ??" He will always be remembered. Now its time for the people in heaven to laugh loud and have fun now that he is there.
Posted by Beverly Wood on 23rd May 2018
I knew Ed when he was a post-doc, which was, of course, a long time ago. He and a colleague used to try and shock me daily with their perverted stories. I think back and giggle when I remember this. Ed taught me a lot about molecular diagnostics, even though it was not really his job and he hardly had the time. Ed was a sweet and brilliant person, and the world lost something with his passing. God speed Ed!

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