Biology lecturer Bledsoe was avian expert and honored teacher

Anthony Bledsoe, a 31-year biological sciences department lecturer and accomplished avian expert, died Sept. 14, 2019.

“Tony was truly beloved by his students,” said his long-time departmental colleague, Walter Carson. “He was a spectacular ornithologist.”

After earning a master’s from the University of California–Santa Cruz and a Ph.D. in biology from Yale, Bledsoe joined the Pitt faculty in 1987. In 2006, he won the student-selected Bellet Teaching Excellence Award as an outstanding undergraduate teacher in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences.

He conducted two classes at Pitt’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology — ecology and ornithology — and on the Pittsburgh campus he taught Foundations of Biology II as well as courses on taxonomy and vertebrate morphology. He also served for many years on students’ Ph.D. committees. He retired from Pitt in 2018,

From the beginning of his career here, as a post-doctorate, Bledsoe teamed with colleague Robert J. Raikow on ornithological research, eventually earning the cover of the prestigious journal BioSciences in 2000. He also studied specimens at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in early efforts to recover their genetic materials. His research focused on DNA hybridization in avian evolution and phylogeny, as well as the anatomical and molecular structures of birds.

He also was a member of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania’s board of trustees.

Carson recalled Bledsoe as “very erudite, very professional,” and that his teaching methods were “classic,” avoiding PowerPoint in favor of chalkboards or whiteboards and an overhead projector. “He was particularly adept at conveying difficult concepts,” Carson said.

Another departmental colleague, Laurel Roberts, met Bledsoe when he arrived at the University. She was a graduate student at the time. “He had a kind of reserved and refined (demeanor) — but he was also a warm and generous person,” she recalled. “He had incredible attention to detail and high standards for students to meet.”

Roberts remembered joining a bird walk Bledsoe hosted at Pymatuning. He showed up in his classroom garb of chinos and a pressed white shirt. “I came back with mud everywhere … and Tony looked like he had just stepped out of the dressing room at Macy’s. Tony had this jazzy cool when he was in his element.”

He was generous to the end, she said, calling her three months ago to say he was proposing her for the local Audubon chapter’s board. “It came out of the blue,” she said. “I am nowhere the ornithologist he was, but he is really interested in promoting diversity. … He worked hard to make sure my nomination had been presented. He called me (in early September) and told me it was going well. I think it was his last project. I feel like he passed the torch along, making sure that science at Pitt was represented.”

He is survived by his wife, Meg, and brother, Paul.

Memorial gifts are suggested to the Pymatuning Lab of Ecology discretionary fund at or to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.