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Robert N. Campbell
In Memoriam

Robert N. Campbell

Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology

UC Davis

Dr. Robert N. Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis, died August 28, 2016, following a long illness. Robert Campbell was born on November 16, 1929, in Fairmont, Minnesota. He grew up there and graduated from Fairmont High School in 1947.  Upon graduation, he initially enrolled in Grinnell College, and then transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he earned a B.S. degree with high distinction in Forest Management in 1952. He entered the graduate school at the U of M, where he earned his M.S. degree in Plant Pathology in 1954 and his Ph.D. degree in Plant Pathology in 1957. His graduate theses were guided by Prof. David W. French and concerned studies of the oak wilt fungus, Ceratocystis fagacearum. From 1957-59, he was a plant pathologist at the U.S. Forest Service Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. In April of 1959, he joined the faculty at UC Davis as an Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology. In 1965, he was promoted to associate professor, followed by promotion to full professor in 1970.

At UC Davis, Bob made a major shift in his research focus where he undertook studies of virus diseases of vegetable crops, particularly lettuce and sweet potatoes. His seminal contributions were to our understanding of lettuce big vein, a viral disease transmitted by the soilborne fungus, Olpidium brassicae.  This pioneering research, described in a series of papers beginning in 1961, was among the first to demonstrate fungal transmission of a plant virus and set the stage for numerous later studies and collaborations. Over the course of the next three decades, Bob and his colleagues published many important papers on the biology, etiology, epidemiology and management of lettuce big vein. In addition to his work on fungal transmission of plant viruses, he published papers on the etiology and characterization of viruses of sweet potato, cucurbits, strawberry, and other crops. Later in his career, Bob worked on corky root of tomato and clubroot of crucifers, providing new insights on the epidemiology and management of these diseases. Bob was an excellent field pathologist with a keen eye and diagnostic sensibility. Bob’s research took him (and his family) around the world on various sabbaticals.  He received an NIH Fellowship for a year’s stay in Cambridge, England, and had other productive sabbaticals at the Lab di Fitovirologia Applicata in Torino, Italy, and at institutes in Avignon and Angers, France.

Bob’s primary teaching responsibility was the introductory plant pathology course at UC Davis, which he taught from the 1960s until his retirement in 1993. He also co-taught plant virology, mentored and supervised graduate students, served on the research committees of many others, and participated in other graduate classes. He believed education and hard work were the keys to success for individuals and for society, and was dedicated to teaching. Through his teaching and mentoring, he influenced many from around the world who went on to successful careers in plant pathology and related fields.

Bob was a member of the American Phytopathological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He also held memberships in Sigma Xi, Xi Sigma Pi, Alpha Zeta and Gamma Sigma Delta, and was recognized as a Fellow by AAAS. In 1962, Bob and Professor Ray Grogan jointly received the prestigious Campbell Soup Company award for outstanding research in vegetable production.    

Bob Campbell’s influence extended from the graduate students and faculty in his own department, to those in other departments and schools, and to his professional societies. After his death, a number of his former students and colleagues provided recollections. Several commented on his attention to detail and high standards, the delight and passion he had (and shared) in solving plant disease problems, and the generosity and kindness he and his wife, Lynn, extended to guests at their home.

Following his retirement, Bob continued to remain active in research for a time and participated in department events. In retirement, he and Lynn, whom he married in 1954, enjoyed reading, traveling, genealogy, volunteering and spending time with their children and grandchildren. Bob was also an avid runner and swimmer for many years. Bob is survived by his son, Jim (Karen Flory), and daughters Greta (Nicholas Goulden) and Carla (Taibou Dia), and four grandchildren. Lynn died on September 15, 2016, within only a few weeks after Bob passed away.

Written by Richard M. Bostock
Dept. of Plant Pathology,
University of California, Davis
September 24, 2017

Reprinted by permission from The American Phytopathological Society,
Bostock, Richard M. 2017. Robert N. Campbell.  Phytopathology News, 51(10): 149.