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Earl B. Patterson (1923 - 1999)

Maize Genetics COOP Stock Center maize at uiuc.edu
Tue May 4 18:18:28 EST 1999

It is with deep sorrow that we write to inform the maize community.

Earl B. Patterson passed away on Saturday May 1, 1999.  He was 75 years
old.  He is survived by his wife Betty and his children Mark and Ann.

His name is synonymous with the Maize Genetics Cooperation Stock Center
whose current thriving status is attributable, in large measure, to his
unstinting effort in its behalf.  His deep imprint also remains with the
annual Maize Genetics Conference, which he organized and presided over
through the 60s, 70s and early 80s.

Earl Patterson was born on a farm in southeastern Nebraska near the town of
Reynolds, on July 21, 1923, the youngest of nine unusually gifted children
in a closely knit family of four girls and five boys. Earl attended the
University of Nebraska where, after serving three years in the U.S. armed
services during WWII, he received his B.S. degree in technical science, in
1947, and graduated first in his class. Dr. Frank Keim, long-time head of
the Department of Agronomy at the University of Nebraska, and a genetics
teacher who was familiar with Earl's interest in the subject, and with his
excellent qualifications, encouraged him to pursue advanced studies with
Dr. E. G. Anderson, himself of Nebraska origin, at the California Institute
of Technology in Pasadena. Upon Dr. Keim's recommendation, Earl's
application was accepted and his graduate years were spent in the Biology
Division at Cal Tech with Dr. Anderson as his mentor. He received his Ph.D.
degree in genetics at that institution in 1952, and stayed at Cal Tech for
another year as a postdoctorate fellow.

In 1953 Earl accepted a position in the Departments of Botany and Agronomy
at the University of Illinois in Urbana, where he was responsible for the
Maize Genetics Cooperation Stock Center which had just been moved from
Cornell University to Urbana. Two years later, in 1955, he became project
leader of that program in the Department of Agronomy. Earlier maintenance
of the maize genetic stocks at Cornell led to selection of strains that
were adapted to the short growing season at Ithaca but only poorly suited
to culture in the Corn Belt and most other corn growing regions in this
country and elsewhere. As a result, Earl Patterson's first task in his new
position at Illinois was to commence the conversion of these many genetic
stocks to inbred and hybrid backgrounds that were better adapted to most
corn growing regions. In 1966 Bob Lambert assumed responsibility for Stock
Center activities and served for 16 years in that capacity until 1983 when
Gil Fletcher was chosen to succeed him. When the position again became
vacant in 1986, Larry Schrader, then Head of the Agronomy Department at
Illinois, persuaded Earl to resume management of the Stock Center. It was
to the great benefit of all maize researchers that Earl returned to that
position at a time when future support and direction of the center were

As for "distribution" of seed stocks, Earl always gave that procedure very
special attention. On each request for seed he brought to bear his
encyclopedic knowledge of maize genetics lore. A request for seeds often
resulted in the shipment of more packets than requested because of Earl's
uncanny ability to anticipate needs and problems associated with growing
and handling the items requested.  All manner of useful suggestions were
likely to be found in the letters that accompany the packets of seeds
requested. There is no doubt that a collection of letters that Earl has
sent in response to seed requests over the years would itself be a valuable
resource for maize geneticists.

While the Maize Genetics Cooperation Stock Center is today well supported
and a thriving organization. it was not always so. In its earlier years at
Illinois funds for its operation were uncertain and often meager. Moreover,
the Stock Center, over a period of years, did not enjoy a very high
priority among programs in the Department of Agronomy. Its current
high-priority status in the department is due to Larry Schrader, who
recognized its importance not only for maize geneticists and breeders, but
for agriculture in general, and to Gary Heichel. the present Head of the
Department of Crop Sciences, who recognizing the significance of this
program within and beyond Illinois borders, has made a strong commitment to
its support. Financial support of the Stock Center is also now secure With
an improved internal status for the Stock Center in recent years has come
increased support from the Agricultural Research Service of the United
States Department of Agriculture, and recently this agency assumed
responsibility for operations and funding of the program. To Earl, whose
labors, and sometime frustrations, have been so closely associated with the
development of the Stock Center, the strong position that it has recently
achieved was a source of great satisfaction and pride.

In 1958 John Laughnan, Ed Coe, Gerry Neuffer, and Earl Patterson talked
about the possibility that there might be an annual informal get-together
of maize geneticists and their graduate students. The first meeting was in
January, 1959, and took place at Allerton Park, a part of a farm facility
owned by the University of Illinois and located just outside of Monticello,
Illinois. There were about twelve participants at that first meeting, so
few that it could be held in the quite small Oak Room in Allerton Park
House. These maize meetings as they came to be called were delightfully
informal and grew in numbers of participants over the years. They were
presided over by Earl. He made all the arrangements for use of the facility
and dates of the meetings each year. He sent out notices of meetings to
potential participants and arranged for ground transportation to Allerton
House. There was no prearranged program of speakers; participants would
arrive on Friday evening and at that time or early the next morning Earl
would talk with people interested in sharing their research experiences and
in that way developed a program for the get-together. At first there was no
need for a microphone, even for the most soft-spoken individuals, but as
the meetings grew in size it necessarily moved to amplification. Earl
introduced the speakers, adjusted the microphone, operated the overhead,
arranged for the right kind of soft chalk and erased the blackboard, all
with a special finesse that earned for him the position of permanent chair
of all sessions. In addition to all these things Earl presided over the
gene mapping sessions usually held on Saturday evenings. As the meetings
grew in size it was recognized that some modest level of organization was
needed and Earl's suggestion that a steering committee for the annual
meetings be established was approved by the maize group. Today this
committee continues to serve an important function in the Maize Genetics
community. Additionally, the Allerton maize meetings served as a model for
the later establishment of similar meetings by Drosophila, Neurospora,
yeast and other researchers, and for the Illinois Corn Breeders School that
is sponsored each year by the Department of Crop Sciences at the University
of Illinois.

After 25 years the maize meetings grew to such a size that Allerton House
could no longer accommodate them and so, regretfully, the maize genetics
community was obliged to move the meetings from this treasured site. This
past March the 41st annual meeting of maize geneticists, now called the
Maize Genetics Conference, was held at the Grand Geneva Convention Center
in Lake Geneva, WI, with over 400 teachers and researchers in attendance.
Younger members of the maize genetics group are probably not acquainted
with Earl Patterson nor aware of the reverence in which the Allerton
meetings are still held by their predecessors. But, they should know that
it was Earl who established the original format for these meetings and
successfully propagated the informal atmosphere that is still recognizable
in the present-day meetings, in spite of their size.

            Maize Genetics Cooperation - Stock Center

USDA/ARS & Crop Sciences/UIUC     http://www.uiuc.edu/ph/www/maize [URL]
S-123 Turner Hall                 maize at uiuc.edu [internet]
1102 S. Goodwin Ave.             (217) 333-6631 [phone]
Urbana, IL  61801-4798           (217) 333-6064 [FAX]

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