In Memory of Robert (Rob) P. Igo, Jr., PhD

Rob Igo, PhD, with a barn cat

Robert (Rob) P. Igo, Jr., PhD, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences (PQHS), was known to his colleagues and students as a thoughtful genetic epidemiologist who embodied the spirit of team science. He passed away over the weekend of July 18, 2020.     

Rob had many impressive professional accomplishments and was known for his generous spirit and his understated – and quirky – sense of humor. His colleagues relied on him as a principal or co-investigator who brought integrity and novel insight to every collaboration. His students regularly commented on his ability to help them navigate complex concepts by making their studies applicable to real-world, contemporary research. 

“Rob was an integral part of our team—a researcher, author, professor, and all-around great colleague,” shared Jonathan Haines, PhD, Chair of the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences. “He brought levity and gravity to the mix, an unusual combination. Everyone who knew him well says that above all else, he was kind. We mourn his loss and extend our condolences to his wife, family, and loved ones.”


After earning a Ph.D. in Anatomy from the University of Utah and an MS in Biostatistics from the University of Washington, Rob came to CWRU as a postdoctoral fellow in 2005, was named an instructor in 2007, and then promoted to assistant professor two years later.

Over the years, Rob built a national reputation as an expert in the theory and application of genomic analysis to explore genetic determinants of human health. He worked with CWRU research teams and large, international consortia concerned with common and complex diseases, most recently related to conditions impacting vision and neurodegeneration including glaucoma, Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy, age-related macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease.

All of these efforts resulted in significant publications and advances in understanding the genetic causes or influences of these conditions. He was published as a lead or collaborating author on more than 60 peer-reviewed articles, with a recent collection of papers in highly influential journals, echoing the trajectory of his career. 

He served his profession nationally, notably with the International Genetic Epidemiology Society and most recently with the Million Veteran Program. He also was committed to making the tools of the profession accessible. He was active in the development and evolution of novel software used in genetic epidemiology and then making that software user-friendly, a common theme in all his work. He authored extremely pragmatic text chapters, many of them among the most widely used in the field. 

“The world lost a gentle, bright soul this past weekend,” said Jessica Cooke Bailey, PhD, MA, Assistant Professor, PQHS. “I don't know what we'll do without him, but my hope is that we will find a way to honor his memory by, at the very least, raising awareness about mental health issues among friends and colleagues."

His students respected and loved him. During his career with CWRU, he developed and taught several courses: Statistical Methods in Human Genetics, Statistical Programming, and Genetic Epidemiology. He also served on thesis and dissertation committees for many students who have gone on to careers in academe and industry. Among the many PQHS alumni who went on to academic careers, many have commented on his kind encouragement and his ability to excite intellectual inquiry, which sparked their love of teaching.  

“Rob was the big brother I needed as I was getting through my dissertation,” said friend and colleague Laura Kopplin, MD, PhD, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. “He was the guy I could go to when I had something to share, or when life wasn’t going my way. He stood in for my formal mentor at my ‘hooding’—when you are recognized as a PhD. It is an important ceremony, and it was special that it was both a mentor and friend who played that role for me.”   

Outside of work, Rob was a naturalist. He loved biking and hiking and took beautiful photos of landscapes, flowers, and his beloved Seattle, where he lived for many years before coming to Cleveland. He traveled internationally and had a special fondness for Japan. He also loved board games and played regularly with a group of friends. And Rob loved cats – he regularly drew cat doodles, typically when meetings were getting too serious.   

We have lost a humble and humorous friend and colleague. We will hold Rob in our hearts.

We are collecting comments from colleagues, students, and friends. You can read them here.