Dr. Frances “Fran” Miller Cashner, beloved wife of Robert C. Cashner and mother of three daughters and a lifelong educator and biologist, passed away after a valiant struggle with ovarian cancer on July 13, 2007. She was 63. Her family was with her at the time of her death.
Dr. Cashner taught anatomy and physiology to thousands of students at the University of New Orleans for 26 years. She had previously held teaching and research positions in immunology at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and Tulane University Medical Center. She was also on the faculty of Xavier University and Tulane’s University College before accepting the instructorship in the Department of Biological Sciences at UNO.
Dr. Cashner thoroughly enjoyed her UNO students, and especially admired those with families who returned to school to work toward new careers in the health sciences and service fields. She devoted countless hours each week teaching lectures and labs, helping and advising students and supervising all of the anatomy and physiology lab sections.
Fran was a remarkable person in many ways. She celebrated life. She was amazingly good natured, consistently happy and tolerant of almost every human trait but meanness. She was essentially fearless and much to the trepidation of her more cautious spouse and children, she more than closely encountered animals in the wild such as African elephants, a hammerhead shark and piranhas.
Fran Cashner, a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was the daughter of Frances Hubbs Miller and Robert Rush Miller. She came from an accomplished, extended academic family. Her father was a Professor and Curator of Fishes at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology for 40 years. Her maternal grandfather was a Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Relatives on both sides of the family had Ph.D.’s and held professorial and chair positions at The University of Texas, Austin, and The California Institute of Technology. Fran earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Michigan before entering the doctoral program at Tulane University’s Delta Regional Primate Center in 1966. Inspired and encouraged by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, Dr. Cashner spent nine months of her dissertation research studying the behavior and ecology of multi-species groups of monkeys in the rain forest canopy of Rio Muni (now Equatorial Guinea) in West Africa. She lived in the same village as her African guide several miles from the closest city.
She returned from Africa with three juvenile monkeys, a red-capped mangabey and two white-nose guenons. Impervious to the lack of practicality of having even one wild monkey for a pet, she kept the three in large cages at the Tulane Uptown Campus for nearly five years. She let them out twice daily so they could climb the oak trees in the Quad, and surprise bicyclists. She even took them on bike rides and short car trips. She donated the animals to the Baton Rouge Zoo and visited them regularly for several years. The monkeys always recognized Fran during her visits and allowed her to enter their cages.
Dr. Cashner spent eight months in 1991 with her husband, Bob, and the two younger daughters, Mollie and Emily, in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. She taught biology at the University of New England, Northern Rivers. She learned before her departure back to the U.S. that her students listened to tapes of her lectures at parties because her accent was so funny. She took it as a compliment. She returned to New Orleans with a new avocation, bird-watching, and each day before Hurricane Katrina walked 3.5 miles along the levees of the London Avenue Canal and along Lakeshore Drive, recording nearly 100 species in a relatively small area. The Cashners returned to Australia more than a dozen times, most recently for a month in October 2006.
Although trained as a mammalogist, Dr. Cashner served for 22 years as the subject index editor of Copeia, the journal of her husband’s scientific society. The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists is dedicated to the study of fishes, reptiles and amphibians. She accompanied and assisted her husband on research trips all over the United States, Mexico and Australia.
Perhaps her most outstanding attribute was her sincere love and patience for children. In addition to her own three daughters, she was a mother figure to many nieces, nephews and other relatives. She helped her own children and others get through tough times by providing a secure place where they received love, encouragement and approval. As her niece, Ashia Miller, wrote recently “She was more of a mother than most are lucky to have.”
In addition to her husband and daughters, Christie Alli of Boulder, CO, Mollie Cashner of Abita Springs and Emily Laan of New Orleans, Dr. Cashner is survived by sons-in-law Stefan Woltmann and Remmert Laan; granddaughters Kallista Alli of Boulder and Nico Laan of New Orleans; brothers Dr. Gifford Miller of Boulder, Roger C. Miller of Boston, MA, Laurance Miller of Ann Arbor, MI, and Benjamin R. Miller of Jersey City, NJ. She was also the loving and caring aunt of nieces Ashia and Brittany Miller, Shellee Coley, Sarah Krueger, Aimee Christenson, Erin Cashin and Tara Doll and nephews Luke, Obidiah, Barrett, Bond, Ben and Chance Miller, Keath Krueger, and Andrew and Adam Cashner.
A memorial service to be held at the University of New Orleans, is planned for the fall. In lieu of flowers, donations to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, http.www.ovarian.org, The Nature Conservancy, http:www.nature.org, WWNO, or to one’s own favorite charity are encouraged.