Written by Christina Crowe

39139scr_2ffe575957cd264.jpgWilliam Benjamin, Jr., Ph.D., Professor, Laboratory Medicine, will retire at the end of this month, August 31, 2022, after 35 years of service at UAB. He is director of the parasitology and microbiology labs, and frequently referred to by friends and colleagues as, “the bug guy.”

Benjamin received his Ph.D. from UAB in the 1980s after having studied at Montana State University for his Master of Science, and Washington State University for his Bachelor of Science degree. He began his professional career at UAB in the Department of Microbiology as a research associate, becoming an instructor in the Department of Pathology in 1991. A year later, Benjamin earned assistant professor status in both departments; by 2008 he had earned full professor status in both.

A military veteran, Benjamin served in the U.S. Army for three years in the 1970s working in Clinical Microbiology in the U.S. Army Hospital Laboratory in Fort Polk, Louisiana. Dr. Benjamin has consulted on tuberculosis for the Centers for Disease Control and the Center for Infectious Disease Research Zambia.

His research focus of late has been on the epidemiology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and how it can be used to work toward elimination of tuberculosis in Alabama and the United States. He also collaborated on the use of serology/molecular typing to evaluate the many new vaccines now on the market for the prevention of diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. He was involved in Streptococcus agalactiae urinary tract infection epidemiology and biology, and in the development of methods to test vaccine efficacy for Shigella sp.
Benjamin has taught medical students over the course of his career, on topics that include microbiology, parasites, immunology, parasitology, mycrobacteriology, and more. He has mentored half a dozen Ph.D. students, and served on numerous others’ dissertation committees.

“Bill was always popular with the medical students because of his down-to-earth way of describing bacterial diseases, especially those caused by enteric organisms,” says David Briles, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, UAB Microbiology. “He also had a special lecture that he titled Backyard Parasitology, which he would give for fun when asked. He generally had little trouble keeping the attention of even the most jaded students.”

Dr. Benjamin’s contemporaries at UAB Pathology expressed their appreciation for his professionalism, his unique studies, and his outgoing personality.

“Bill is an ultra-curious microbiologist and highly enthusiastic backyard parasitologist, continuously finding and sharing his wonder and amazement in the world of microscopic critters,” says Sixto Leal, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, who directs the Clinical Microbiology and Fungal Reference labs. “His highly contagious, boyish wonder entraps you and makes you really appreciate being able to work with such an incredible mind, colleague, and friend. I have wished on many occasions that he and I were roughly the same age, so our careers would unfold together and I would have more time to work with and cherish this incredible person.”

Former colleagues of Benjamin echo these sentiments.

“Bill has been a great friend and colleague to me since I came back to UAB in 2009,”says J. Martin Rodriguez, M.D., Paul W. Burleson, M.D. Endowed Professor of Internal Medicine. “His wealth of knowledge, constant willingness to help, flexibility and problem solving abilities, and amazing, calm personality will be deeply missed around here. And I will also miss his reports of parasites in road kills around his house.”

Moon Nahm, M.D., Professor Emeritus, UAB Department of Medicine, says, “I had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Bill Benjamin for more than 20 years. I met him when I came to UAB to direct the clinical immunology laboratory. I have found him to be kind, interesting, and knowledgeable. He is always in a good mood, and is always curious and finds things to learn. He is simply a good teacher. I have learned to treasure his partnership. I will miss him very much when he retires.”

Ken Waites, M.D., Professor, Laboratory Medicine, and Medical Director of the Mycoplasma Lab, claims partial responsibility for Benjamin’s dual appointment in the Department of Pathology. Waites was appointed Section Head for Clinical Microbiology under former Pathology chair Jay McDonald, M.D. Waites implored McDonald to add additional help in microbiology, and convinced him to hire Benjamin.
“He was experienced in two areas where my knowledge was quite thin: Mycobacteriology and parasitology. So, the two of us set out to run our clinical operation and teach residents and medical students about the fascinating world of microbiology.”

With the later addition of Stephen Moser, M.D., Professor Emeritus, to cover mycology, the “third leg on the microbiology stool,” the three served as the microbiology team for the next 20 years.
“Bill is the last man standing from our three-man team,” says Waites, who relinquished his clinical duties in 2010. “I am delighted to have worked with Bill and even learned some mycobacteriology from him. I was just relieved he was always around to handle the malaria smears!”

“Congratulations on your retirement,” says Vishnu Reddy, M.D., Professor and Division Director, Laboratory Medicine. “We greatly appreciate your more than 30 years of wonderful service to the UAB Healthcare System.”