LSU Health New Orleans Newsroom

Joseph M. Moerschbaecher, III, PhD

July 1, 2021

Joseph M. Moerschbaecher, III, PhD, who recently retired as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, passed away July 1, 2021, from complications of esophageal cancer.

The son of the late Geraldine (Stack) Moerschbaecher and Joseph M. Moerschbaecher Jr., Joe was born February 12, 1949, in South Bend, Indiana.

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He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at Loyola University, Chicago. While still in school, Joe was a research associate in behavioral pharmacology at Abbott Laboratories. He received a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at the American University in Washington, DC, and then worked as a research associate in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. After Joe completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Pharmacology at Georgetown University Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, he joined the faculty as a research assistant professor. LSU Health Sciences Center recruited him, and he joined its faculty as an assistant professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics in 1983.
Dr. Joesph Moerschbaecher
His remarkable nearly four-decade career at LSU Health Sciences Center was filled with visionary leadership and accomplishment. He rose through the ranks as an associate and full professor to lead the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and in 1991, he was also appointed Co-Director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center of Excellence, which he helped found. In 1998, Chancellor Merv Trail, MD, appointed Joe as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. He led Academic Affairs and the graduate school on both the New Orleans and Shreveport campuses as Shreveport was under LSU Health New Orleans’ administration at that time.

Recalled Wayne Backes, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Associate Dean for Research at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, “When he first became department head, he told us that ‘All ships rise with a rising tide.’ It was the first time that I heard this, and this is how he built his department.”

Joe was extensively published in peer-reviewed journals. He also wrote numerous chapters in textbooks. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded him millions of dollars in research grant funding throughout his career. He was an award-winning teacher, continuous NIH study section participant, and a member of almost 40 different LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans committees. Joe also played a key role in founding the LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health.

Peter Winsauer, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Assistant Dean for Basic Science Research at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, singled out one of Joe’s best talents. "He had an incredible knack for identifying people with promise and then mentoring them to reach that promise.”

He served on the boards of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center and the Louisiana Cancer Research Center, as well as the Chair of the Louisiana Board of Regents Support Fund Planning Committee. Joe served in multiple capacities for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and from 2010-2012, was the President of the Behavioral Pharmacology Society. This society is one of his scientific discipline’s oldest professional societies and one that was essentially launched by B. F. Skinner.

“Dr. Joe Moerschbaecher’s dedication to the mission of the LSU Health Sciences Center was unwavering,” said close friend and colleague Jimmy Cairo, PhD, Dean of LSU Health New Orleans School of Allied Health Professions. “His abilities to attentively listen to others’ opinions and analyze challenging situations were comforting to everyone who worked on projects with him.”

Joe Moerschbaecher was instrumental in LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans’ response to and recovery from the devastating flooding after Hurricane Katrina. To ensure the safety and wellbeing of those students who were unable to flee as the floodwaters inundated LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, Joe remained on campus with several other staff members until the water receded and they could be transported out of our badly damaged and incapacitated city. He played a major role in relocating the main and dental campuses to Baton Rouge and successfully returning to New Orleans to rebuild both the academic and research enterprises.

“Shortly after Katrina, everything was chaotic, and I asked him what we should do first to help,” Dr. Backes remembered. “He said, ‘You will see problems. Just work on that – everything will help’.”

In all of his roles, Dr. M, as he was affectionately known, was fully engaged in support of students; the expansion of the research enterprise, including multiple centers of excellence; the support of innovation; and the nurturing of relationships with governing bodies and other institutions in the LSU System, as well as across the state, nation, and globe.

“We owe Joe Moerschbaecher a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said Larry Hollier, MD, Chancellor of LSU Health New Orleans. “He left an indelible mark on our university, and his contributions to science and health were enormous. His legacy will live on through the more than 20,000 graduates whose careers he helped shape. The goal for most of us is to make a difference. Joe Moerschbaecher more than achieved that goal. Integrity, commitment, excellence, and service defined his life.”

As distinguished but self-effacing leader as he was, the adopted New Orleanian also knew how to kick back and enjoy life. He dove headlong into New Orleans’ culture. As a member of Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Club, Joe looked forward to donning each year’s colorful suit and taking to the streets on Mardi Gras morning, of course, stopping at watering holes along the way. He often delighted his staff with annual Pete Fountain bobblehead figures for their desks. He was also known to bring donuts and king cakes in as special little treats. And everyone knew if you wanted a cookie with your coffee at a staff meeting, you had to beat him to the tray. He was so fond of them that those who had to meet with Joe about difficult topics were encouraged to bring cookies.

There was nothing Joe loved more than dancing with his beloved Bern. They would be the first on and last off the dancefloor at the annual LSU School of Medicine Gala. He relished his fishing trips with his brother and relaxing and reading for fun on his Florida beach.

Joe loved sailing so much that whenever they could, he and a few of his colleagues from around the country would stay on sailboats rather than in hotels when they attended professional society meetings.

Joe is survived by his wife of 48 years, Bernadette Moerschbaecher of Metairie, Louisiana, sons Joseph Moerschbaecher, IV, of Brevard, North Carolina, and Matthew Moerschbaecher, PhD, of Metairie, Louisiana, as well as sisters Mary McDonald (Patrick) of Long Beach, Indiana, and Patricia Frett (Robert) of McHenry, Illinois, a brother, William Moerschbaecher (Amy) of Presque Isle, Wisconsin, and numerous nieces and nephews.

“Joe was the bedrock of LSU Health Sciences Center,” said Kurt Varner, PhD, Professor and Head of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at LSU Health New Orleans. “His steadfast and compassionate leadership over the last 40 years has helped to guide the institution through good times and bad. He was a teacher, mentor and trusted friend to students, faculty and staff alike. He will be dearly missed.”

A celebration of his life and contributions to LSU Health Sciences Center will soon be displayed in the Ische Library on campus.

Visitation will be Friday, July 9, 2021, from 9:30 – 11:00 a.m. at St. Ann Church and Shrine, 3601 Transcontinental Drive, Metairie, LA 70006. A funeral mass celebrating his life will follow at 11:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the LSU Health New Orleans School of Graduate Studies account at the LSU Health Foundation New Orleans, 2000 Tulane Avenue, 4th Floor, New Orleans, LA 70112.