Nature 22

Donald J. Lisk

May 12, 1930 ~ April 27, 2019 (age 88)


FREEVILLE – Donald J. Lisk passed away on April 27, 2019 at age 88. He was predeceased by his father, Sidney Lisk; his stepfather, Herbert Kohman; and his mother, Sophia Grace (Keller) Kohman.

Don grew up in Buffalo, NY, surrounded by many aunts, uncles and cousins. Later in life, he would recall many fond memories of those early years. He earned his B.A. in chemistry at the University of Buffalo in 1952. He completed his M.S. (’54) and Ph.D. (’56) in soil chemistry at Cornell University. In 1956, Don became the Director of Cornell’s Toxic Chemicals Laboratory, a position he would hold until his retirement in 2004.  Don and his research team specialized in such areas as the analysis of pesticides (such as DDT) in soils, plants and animals; toxic effects in occupationally-exposed populations; and, the dietary inhibition of cancer. One study in the early 1970’s examined the use of flame retardants in children’s pajamas; when all the goldfish in large tanks died after the fabric was added to the water, red flags went up in the industry.  In Don’s words, it also “proved that goldfish should never wear kids’ pajamas.”

During his lengthy career at Cornell, Don authored approximately 500 journal publications detailing his research.  Don was a professor of toxicology and enjoyed giving numerous seminars at Cornell and beyond.  He also acted as a graduate advisor and informal mentor to many students over the years.  In addition to his work at Cornell, Don was a reviewer for various national organizations including the National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, and the EPA.  He collaborated with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo and the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. He consulted for corporations such as Exxon and General Electric.  Don served on multiple editorial boards for scientific journals, as well.

Following his retirement, Don enjoyed extensive travel in the United States, Canada, Europe, Central America, Australia and New Zealand with his wife and friends. He volunteered weekly with Loaves & Fishes in Ithaca, and was an usher and greeter at Holy Cross Church in Freeville. During retirement, he also rekindled a childhood hobby of word working, building and giving away over 1000 birdhouses.

From an early age, Don loved singing, whistling and listening to music. As a young boy, helping his stepfather building their house, he became determined to build his own house one day. Shortly after his marriage to Nan in 1959, he began building their home in Freeville, where they would eventually raise their four children. During his working years, he took daily walks around the Cornell Plantations. Don also liked to garden, attend lectures, theatre and musical performances. Most of all, Don enjoyed making others laugh. He wrote and recited countless humorous poems about friends, memorable events, trips taken and colleagues retiring, all in his signature rhyming style.

Don is survived by his wife of 59 years, Nanette (Riester) Lisk of Freeville, NY; daughters Sue Lisk of Silver Spring, MD; Marion (Bryan) French of Conesus, NY; Eileen Lisk (David Long) of Saint Petersburg, FL; son Tom (Robin) Lisk of Mukilteo, WA; and grandsons Jacob French, Noah French and Bryan Mendives.  

A mass of Christian burial will be held Saturday, May 11, 2019 at 11:00am at Holy Cross Church, 375 George Road, Freeville, NY. Burial will follow in Willow Glen Cemetery. Friends may call from 4-6pm, Friday May 10, 2019 at Perkins Funeral Home, 55 Main Street, Dryden, NY.

In lieu of flowers, please consider the Alzheimer’s Association or Holy Cross Church in Freeville, NY.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Donald J. Lisk, please visit our floral store.


May 10, 2019

4:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Perkins Funeral Home
55 W. Main st
Dryden, NY 13053

Mass of Christian Burial
May 11, 2019

11:00 AM
Holy Cross Church (George Road, Freeville, New York)

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