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(Un)common Folk

Bill Folk

Bill Folk gives a lecture about that the use of traditional medicines for healthcare this past July at the Bond Life Sciences Center. A Sutherlandia plant from his own garden is to his left. Photo by Stephen Schmidt.

Biochemistry stalwart prepares to share his story for Corps of Discovery Lecture.

Who is Bill Folk? That depends on whom you ask.

To members of the University of Missouri community, he may be the guy with the long stride and his nose to the ground in spite of his tall and slender frame, rolling with a purposeful stride as he crosses campus lost in thought. “It is hard to crack his train of thought sometimes and people will go ‘Hey we waved at Dr. Folk, but he didn’t see us,’” says his youngest daughter, Torrey Palmer.

To the scientific and medical communities at MU and beyond, he’s the epitome of a collaborator. He is a professor of biochemistry, jointly appointed to the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the School of Medicine, with an adjunct appointment in the Masters of Public Health Program. Since arriving at MU in 1989 has served as a catalyst for a number of studies and international efforts that bridge modern and traditional medicines. These efforts are highlighted by work conducted in South Africa with a plant known as Sutherlandia and its possible abilities to combat or stifle HIV and AIDS.

To Dennis Lubahn, he’s the man with “Wyatt Earp eyes” who hired him in 1994 when Folk served as the head of CAFNR’s biochemistry division from 1989 to 2000. “You would never want to stare him down,” Lubahn warns. At the same time, Lubahn says his former boss has the self-assured confidence and benevolence of Santa Claus (minus the big belly). “You talk to him. You calm down. You feel better,” he adds.

To his wife and two daughters, he’s the husband and father whose sense of discovery and tireless work ethic has never waned in the nearly 50 years that he’s been married to his wife, Martha. “He’s just really open to new ideas, new challenges,” she says. “Any time he can learn something new, he’s excited.”

To his four grandchildren, he’s “Unga,” a name that stuck after the eldest tried to pronounce “grandfather” for the first time.

Who is Bill Folk? It takes all of these replies to answer that question, simply because Folk is as fond of talking about himself as he is sitting indoors and twiddling his thumbs on a beautiful Saturday.

This Thursday (Sept. 17) though, Folk will not be allowed to change the subject or shift the spotlight as he gives this year’s 21st Century Corps of Discovery Lecture, “Clash of Cultures on the Medical Frontier,” at 4 p.m. in Memorial Union North’s Stotler Lounge.

When he gives the lecture, he will be just the third member of the CAFNR community to do so, joining Randy Prather (2007) and Jerry Taylor (2013) from the Division of Animal Sciences. He will be second representative from the School of Medicine, following Carol Ward (2011) from the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences.


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Campus: UMC
Key words: Agriculture, Competitiveness, MU Campus, UM System,
County: Boone