PEMBROKE — Former UNC Pembroke professor James Ebert, a staple in the biology department who impacted the lives of countless students during his tenure that spanned nearly five decades, died recently at the age of 96.
One of the earliest and longest-serving professors in the department, Dr. Ebert taught biological science from 1956 to 2003. He served as dean of Student Affairs, assistant to the president and was a member of nearly every standing faculty committee and the Faculty Senate. He created the College Foundation, the precursor of today’s UNCP Foundation and wrote and received the university’s first federally funded grant. During his tenure, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree.
“Dr. Ebert was the epitome of an accomplished professor and embodied exactly the desired skills and talents needed in the profession. His dedicated service to the university was outstanding in every way as a teacher, scholar, colleague and advisor to countless students. His contributions positively influenced many lives for generations to come,” said interim Provost Zoe Locklear.
Former colleagues and students say Ebert — who remained in the classroom until he was 78 — will be remembered for his loyalty and dedication to the university, his students and the community.
“The first thing I think of was his positive outlook on life,” said Lisa Kelly, professor of ecology. “He loved working at the university and loved teaching. He said we (professors) had the best jobs in the world. Dr. Ebert was a pillar of the department — someone who helped make the transition from Pembroke State College to a university because of his dedication and attention to our students, the high quality of instruction and his commitment to his profession.”
Retired professor Joe McGirt was a sophomore when he took a class with Ebert in 1954.
“He did a good job presenting the information. He was just a good teacher — very encouraging.”
After earning his degree, McGirt joined the biology faculty and taught for many years alongside his former professor.
“He was an excellent professor and a wonderful person to work with.”
Though Ebert taught various botanical and zoological courses over some 47 years, ecology was a primary interest. In his principles of ecology course, he required every student to accompany him on coastal field trips and to local ponds, providing students with an invaluable hands-on learning experience.
Dr. Velinda Woriax, another of Ebert’s former students, recalled a trip to Maxton Pond as a student in the 1980s.
“We were in a canoe and using an instrument called an Eckman Dredge to identify soil samplings in aquatic environments. It dropped into the water, and Dr. Ebert said we could either pay for it or find it. We all came back that evening and searched the pond until we found it because we didn’t have several hundred dollars to replace it,” said Woriax, chair of UNCP’s biology department.
Ebert was known for his rare collection of two dozen species of native wildflowers as a field ecologist. When he retired, Kelly and Ebert transferred the plants from his home garden to campus at the northwest corner of the Oxendine Science Building. The garden bearing his name is maintained by faculty, students and staff.
He was the author of Laboratory Studies in Biology, adopted for biology education classes for many years. Ebert promoted scholarship during his tenure, establishing the James Boyer Ebert and Eleanor Lewis Ebert Biology Scholarship at UNCP. An anonymous donor contributed another endowed scholarship in his name, and years later, he launched another scholarship drive for the Retired Faculty Committee.
He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Eleanor, a daughter, Nancy Gray, and a son, James Ebert Jr.