Fulbright College Mourns Passing of Anthropology’s Dr. Justin Nolan, Family Establishes Memorial Fellowship

by | Jul 17, 2020 | Features, Gifts, In Memoriam

Associate professor of anthropology Dr. Justin Murphy Nolan, 48, passed away on May 19 of a sudden heart attack.

Nolan was a notable biocultural anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology, who worked with Native American and southern U.S. cultures. His research focused on ethnobiology, medical anthropology and the study of region-specific folkways and traditions.

“At a young age, Justin knew that he wanted to be a teacher, and wanted to share what he knew with others, to inspire them, and encourage them,” said Bob Nolan, his father. “That’s why our family knew that one of the best ways to commemorate Justin and his love of education, while also helping the students he devoted his life to serving, would be to create a fellowship in his name.”

The Dr. Justin Murphy Nolan Memorial Endowed Fellowship in Anthropology will provide full tuition for an incoming freshman studying anthropology at the U of A and will be awarded for the first time in fall 2020.

Todd Shields, dean of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, said that “Justin was such an amazing person and anyone who met him couldn’t help but see that immediately.”

“His smile, his friendship, his passion for teaching, and his overall joyfulness will never be forgotten,” Shields said. “And it is incredibly meaningful that so many of Justin’s family members and friends are honoring him this way, so that he can continue to do precisely what he excelled at the most – helping others and changing their lives for the better.”

Justin Nolan was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, on August 31, 1971. He was a member of the first gifted and talented program in the El Dorado School System and graduated with honors from El Dorado High School in 1989.

Nolan was awarded a Presidents Scholarship to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where he graduated with honors in 1993, with a B.A. in anthropology. He obtained his master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Missouri in 1996, and his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology in 2000. That year he was also named a visiting assistant professor at the University of Missouri.

Nolan joined the University of Arkansas in 2002, as a visiting assistant professor of anthropology. Former Department of Anthropology chair Mary Jo Schneider was one of Nolan’s mentors and said she has many wonderful memories of working with him.

“Justin lived to bring joy into the lives of others. He was a thoroughly good person,” Schneider said. “[My husband] Bill and I have known Justin since he first came to the University of Arkansas in 2002 with the reputation of being an outstanding teacher at the University of Missouri – and outstanding, he was. Justin made an indelible and positive impact on so many of us. He was an exceptional person who brought creativity, insight, and compassion to his work as an educator and researcher.”

Schneider added that Nolan “shared his love and enthusiasm with everyone, even Gypsy and Purrcy, two neighborhood cats who he showered with special treats. He was a friend, confidant, and incredible human being.”

In 2010, Nolan was named associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Anthropology and he later succeeded Schneider and was elected and served as department chair from 2016-2018.

He was widely published, authoring two books and multiple articles, 11 book chapters, and two book reviews. He was an invited lecturer at learning institutions across the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy, recognized as a worldwide expert in his field. Additionally, Nolan was recognized for his knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs and their application in Native American culture, as well as in early Ozark settlements.

“He had a great thirst for knowledge that was never quenched,” Bob Nolan said, adding that Justin was also a gifted photographer who observed all, from the smallest plant to the largest sunset, with a profound sense of wonder.

“He studied and chronicled the evolution of human behavior and society with this same keen eye,” Bob Nolan said. “He was brilliant, loving and kind. Everyone who knew him, loved him. He cast a bright light into every life that knew him, and he will be forever missed.”

Nolan is survived by his mother, Betty Linda Nolan, his father, Robert C. Nolan, both of El Dorado, Arkansas; his brother, Robert C. Nolan, Jr., of Tuscaloosa, Alabama; his sister, Carrie Elizabeth Nolan, of Grapevine, Texas; two nieces, Isabelle Hopkins Nolan and Sarah Elizabeth Koch; and two nephews, Robert Calvert Nolan III and William S. Koch, Jr.

A private family interment service was held, and a public memorial celebration will be announced. In the meantime, condolences can be expressed at Young’s Funeral Home online.

Several of his colleagues have shared fond memories of Nolan, including emeritus professor of anthropology Jerry Rose, who said “Justin is the most thoughtful and kindest person I have ever had in my life. Whether in his office or at a social occasion, he gave you his total attention. He met every occasion with kindness and for this I am most grateful. If I happened to do him a small kindness, it was returned a hundredfold.”

Current Department of Anthropology chair JoAnn D’Alisera added, “Justin was a dear personal friend as well as a talented faculty member. And, as many were lucky to know, his sense of humor and kindness made him a friend to all. We will all miss him and the brightness he brought to our world in immeasurable ways. I will miss your sweet smile and loving ways, my dear friend.”

If you would like to make a memorial donation to honor Justin Nolan, please contact Melody Kouchehbagh at melodyk@uark.edu for account information and mailing instructions.

Andra Parrish Liwag

Director of Communications, 

J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences 

479-575-4393 // liwag@uark.edu