Biology Professor Royt Retires

Posted: February 4, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Paulette Royt
Paulette Royt
Photo by Duane King

You could say that Paulette Royt, associate professor of biology, practically grew up at Mason: Last week she retired after 31 years on the faculty.

You could also say that her department grew up with her.

A former interim chair and chair of what was the Biology Department (now Department of Molecular and Microbiology), Royt was at the helm while the department rapidly grew in enrollment and course offerings.

“Dr. Royt’s contributions to our university and its current curriculum in the biological sciences, microbiology in particular, are foundational,” says James Willett, current chair of Molecular and Microbiology. “She has designed and run many of the courses we now deliver, and has done so with excellence at all levels.”

Willett adds, “She was committed to her students and the courses she taught, and she continued to pursue a serious, successful research program.”

As a researcher, Royt spent years studying iron chelators, molecules that attract iron. She hoped that a synthetic compound could be developed into an oral drug for patients who had too much iron in their blood. She also studied bacteria.

One of her longtime research colleagues is Robert Honeychuck, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“Somehow she has managed to carry a heavy teaching load with frequent large undergraduate lectures and at the same time perform research on the cutting edge. She has wrapped a career around understanding the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the primary lung-infecting organism in adult cystic fibrosis patients and also a problem in blast and burn victims,” says Honeychuck.

“She set the example for her group members by working in the lab personally, showing them the way to do things properly on a day-to-day basis.”

He adds, “My collaboration with her has been very fruitful and has resulted in one MS (jointly with Dr. Wayne Stalick) and one PhD. I congratulate her. She will be sorely missed.”

Although a diligent researcher, Royt will probably be remembered most widely for her devotion to students. She taught generations of students in microbiology and virology. In recent years, she also taught in the biodefense program.

Colleague Monique van Hoek, assistant professor of molecular and microbiology, notes Royt’s involvement with the American Society of Microbiology (ASM).

“Dr. Royt has been the faculty sponsor of the George Mason University ASM student branch for many years. She has organized speakers to come to Mason, such as the keynote presentation by Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger as part of the D.C. ASM branch meeting held at Mason.”

Royt is a past president of the Washington, D.C, branch of ASM.

Jimmy Rogers, president of Mason’s student ASM chapter, says, “Dr. Royt has promoted the cause of the ASM for many years, not only at the professional level, but also among students, helping us with her advising as well as her regular ‘Careers in Microbiology’ lectures. All of us in ASM wish her well in what will hopefully be a long, relaxing retirement.”

Royt says she enjoyed her three areas of responsibility, research, teaching and service, and she was able to combine them in most aspects of her work.

“Within those three areas, I mentored many students, both undergraduate and graduate. Many students worked in my lab. I advised students as to what courses to take, what jobs to pursue, what graduate or professional schools to apply to,” Royt says. “I thoroughly enjoyed such mentoring. I feel that if I made a difference in the life of a student, then I succeeded in my career at George Mason University.”

In retirement, Royt plans to put her biology background and experience to work, although not exactly on the molecular level.

“I plan to become a Master Gardener and do volunteer work with the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Virginia Cooperative Extension program,” says Royt.

She adds that she also plans to catch up on the reading she’s postponed for 31 years.

Royt earned a BS and MS from American University and a PhD in microbiology from the University of Maryland. Before coming to Mason, she had a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health for two years, working in the Laboratory of Biochemistry of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Write to at