University of South Alabama professor dies from COVID-19

Dr. Brian Axsmith

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) -- A biology professor at the University of South Alabama died after contracting COVID-19.

Dr. Brian Axsmith died early Tuesday morning. According to his sister he had underlying health issues and was diagnosed in late April but continued to teach courses online. She says he was admitted to the hospital on Saturday with breathing issues. 

"When he first went in we were pretty optimistic. He was having trouble breathing so they put him on a ventilator and after that it just went downhill pretty fast," said Doreen Axsmith Inmon, Dr. Axsmith's sister.

Inmon still lives in suburban Philadelphia -- where she and her brother grew up. She says he always had a fascination with science from an early age. It started with dinosaurs and paleontology and eventually led him to his love of botany. 

"We were always so proud of him. My parents were just always so proud. It's hard to explain. We've just always been so very proud of all of his accomplishments," said Inmon. 

Inmon said they come from a very musical family. Her father was a music teacher, which had a huge influence on her and her brother. They both started playing the accordion. She says her brother even played in a polka band as a teenager. 

He went on to take up bass and played in a couple of local bands in the Mobile area. 

USA's Chemistry Department posted the following on Facebook.

Dr. Tim Sherman wrote, "Brian was more than a wonderful colleague, he was a dear friend. I will remember fondly the many conversations we shared about music, history, politics, and science. I will miss his wry sense of humor and easy going manner. It’s hard for me to believe that he has gone. Truly a loss for our department, the college, and the university. Take care of yourselves and stay well."

Dr. Axsmith was 57-years-old and leaves behind his wife, Jennifer and a son, Jeffrey. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family with expenses.

Meanwhile, Dr. Axsmith's sudden death also took his former students and colleagues by surprise. 
 
"I saw yesterday that he was sick and I've just kind of been checking. And then today on my lunch break I opened Facebook and it was just the first thing that I saw... that he passed away and I immediately burst into tears. It was devastating," said Sarah Holder, former student.
 
"It makes it real... it makes it more personal," said Charlie Crabtree, former student.
 
Crabtree is a science teacher at Mary G. Montgomery High School. He says Dr. Axsmith's evolutionary biology class was one of his first grad school courses four years ago.
 
"He challenged you to think -- regardless what you thought about evolution. He is one of those if I could just sit there and listen to him hours on end -- I would do it. He was very intriguing," said Crabtree.
 
Holder agrees and recalls his sense of humor making it a "must attend" class.
 
"He had a sense of humor like no other. He was one of those teachers who was really good about presenting the facts. But he was really good at presenting the facts in such a way that -- you go wow that makes sense. He let you form your own opinions, but he made it makes sense. He made it fun," said Holder.
 
As they mourn with his family -- they take comfort in knowing Dr. Axsmith's passion for science will live on in his students, who will continue to share his many lessons.
 
"I'm applying right now to get my Master's in Education and he's one of the reasons why because he was such a great educator. It inspired me to want to become an educator like him," said Holder.
 
"Just his wisdom, his knowledge... it made you want to do more, to learn more, to be more," said Crabtree.

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