Remembering Dr. Peter Petrusz

Long-time faculty member Peter Petrusz was a leader in the study of hormones important for the growth, development, and maintenance of neural structures.

Remembering Dr. Peter Petrusz click to enlarge Peter Petrusz, MD, PhD

Peter Petrusz, MD, PhD, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine for almost 40 years, died at UNC Hospice in Pittsboro, NC, on Aug. 27, 2017, at the age of 78. He passed away peacefully in the presence of his beloved wife, Sophia Petrusz.

Dr. Petrusz was born in 1939 in Győr, Hungary and spent his early childhood in Székesfehérvár, Hungary, where his parents were teachers. In his youth, Dr. Petrusz coped with the harsh realities of post-war communist life in Hungary by escaping into intellectual pursuits. An avid chess player and reader, he developed a particular interest and aptitude in the study of chemistry.

After completing his medical degree and compulsory military service in Hungary, Petrusz obtained his PhD at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1972, Dr. Petrusz was recruited by H. Stanley Bennett, then chair of the anatomy department at the UNC School of Medicine, which later became the department of cell biology and physiology.

Department chair Kathleen Caron, PhD, said, “Dr. Petrusz will be missed dearly by our department, the school and the community of reproductive biology researchers around the world. I have many fond memories of him dating back to when I was a graduate student at Duke in the 1990s. I trained in the field of reproductive biology and met Dr. Petrusz at the annual Triangle Reproductive Meetings.  He was always so supportive of and enthusiastic about the work of young scientists, always offering excellent suggestions for exciting ways to collaborate on research to advance science.”

Upon arrival, Dr. Petrusz immersed himself in the vibrant, collegial and intellectual atmosphere of the UNC School of Medicine, and the wider scientific community in Chapel Hill. In recent years, his family said he observed with pride that his generation of scientists had laid a solid foundation for much of the growth in facilities and reputation that the university has enjoyed in recent years.

Dr. Petrusz published extensively throughout his career and enjoyed keeping up with the newest developments in cell biology and neurobiology. Early in his career, he focused his research on control mechanisms in reproductive endocrinology. His later research expanded the field’s knowledge of the roles of hormones in the growth, development, and maintenance of various neural structures. His contributions in expanding the use of immunohistochemistry and light microcopy to visualize the locations of proteins had implications across other biological disciplines.

He also enjoyed sharing ideas and techniques with others in his field and was committed to training the next generation of scientists and medical students. In the 1980s, he published a four-volume series, Techniques in Immunocytochemistry with Gillian R. Bullock. The book became a widely used reference for biological researchers around the world.

In 2004, he was elected into the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He retired from UNC in 2015.

Dr. Petrusz was predeceased by his brother Béla Petrusz. He is survived by his wife Sophia Petrusz; his sister Mária Czakó; Sophia's daughter Agnes Supala Berger, husband Ken Berger, and their two children Michael and Michelle Berger, his daughter Catherine Petrusz and son-in-law David Foster, his son Robert Petrusz and daughter-in-law Christine Muth Petrusz, and his grandchildren Elizabeth Elaine Petrusz and Caroline Katalin Petrusz.

The family expresses gratitude to the staff of NC Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill and the UNC Hospice in Pittsboro for their compassionate and supportive care of Peter.

The family suggests that in lieu of flowers, gifts may be directed to UNC Hospice. Checks should be made payable to the Medical Foundation of NC, 880 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514. Please note on the check that it is a memorial for Dr. Peter Petrusz, and specify UNC Hospice (#345729).

A ceremony to honor Dr. Petrusz’s life will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2017 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 940 Carmichael Street, Chapel Hill, NC.

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