Robert E. Shoemaker, retired Towson University professor

Robert E. Shoemaker, a retired Towson University professor and accomplished philatelist, died of congestive heart failure on Dec. 31 at the Broadmead retirement community. He was 75.

Dr. Shoemaker taught biology, botany and paleontology at Towson University for more than 30 years. He led students in researching petrified wood in Ecuador in the 1970s, which led to the creation of the Puyango Petrified Forest National Park.


Born and raised in the town of Whiting in Northwest Indiana, Dr. Shoemaker was the son of Bernard Shoemaker, a chemist for Standard Oil of Indiana, and the former Dorothy Dekker, a homemaker.

He graduated from George Rogers Clark High School and earned his undergraduate degree in biology at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and his doctorate at the University of Minnesota.


At Minnesota, Dr. Shoemaker met his wife, the former Elsie Williams, who died in 2007.

Upon graduation, the Shoemakers moved to the Baltimore area in 1967 for his job teaching biological sciences at what is now Towson University. He specialized in botany and plant fossils.

Dr. Shoemaker's most notable research was on petrified wood in Ecuador, said his son, Andrew Shoemaker of Blacksburg, Va.

"Back in the 1970s, there was an area down in Ecuador where they were planning to build a hydroelectric dam, but they knew there was petrified wood in the area," Mr. Shoemaker said. "They wanted someone to research it before it would be flooded and lost forever."


The government selected Dr. Shoemaker to do the research, and for two summers, he took Towson students to Ecuador to conduct research in the area.

Ultimately, the dam was never built and the area was turned into the Puyango Petrified Forest National Park — one of the largest known areas of exposed petrified wood in the world.

"He told them they were going to lose all of these plants unique to Ecuador and they never did build the dam," said Dr. Shoemaker's brother, Kent Shoemaker of Chicago.

Andrew Shoemaker, who along with his brother David joined the second research trip, said his father was devoted to his students and found a comfortable academic home at Towson, spending his entire career there.

"It was a place where he felt he could help out a lot of students," Andrew Shoemaker said.

He took students to Arizona — where his parents had retired — during Towson's January "minimester" sessions to study nature and visit the Grand Canyon. And he organized an annual trip to West Virginia so students could search for fossils.

"He was so enthusiastic in getting them out in the field. The students just really loved that trip," said a friend, Dr. Don C. Forester,a professor emeritus of biology at Towson.

Dr. Shoemaker also created Towson's electron microscopy program. The university lacked the expensive electron microscopes, so Dr. Shoemaker worked with manufacturers to obtain used microscopes, his son said.

Dr. Shoemaker retired as a professor from Towson in 2003.

In his spare time, Dr. Shoemaker was an avid stamp collector, frequently exhibiting at the Baltimore Philatelic Society's annual BALPEX stamp show.

Dr. Shoemaker was a stamp collector for most of his life, and used his hobby to learn about the world, his son said. After his research trips to Ecuador, Dr. Shoemaker amassed a large collection of Ecuadorean stamps.

"Even if you can't go places, you can experience a country and its history through stamps," his son said.

Dr. Shoemaker enjoyed collecting stamps with errors and omissions and liked the challenge researching stamps in countries that weren't well documented. In 2012, he published a book on Liberian postal stationery for the United Postal Stationery Society.

Dr. Shoemaker also enjoyed traveling and photography, and had exhibited photographs locally.

Viewings will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Lemmon Funeral Home of Dulaney Valley, 10 W. Padonia Road in Timonium. A funeral will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home.

In addition to his sons and brother, Dr. Shoemaker is survived by another brother, Roland Shoemaker of Williamsburg, Va.


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