Colleagues and friends have established this award in honor of Dr. H. David Thurston for the contributions that he has made to the science of plant pathology through his research, teaching, and service.
H. David Thurston (1927-2014) was born in Sioux Falls, SD, on March 24, 1927. He received his primary and secondary education in Sioux Falls and spent 16 months in the Air Force prior to entering the University of Minnesota. In 1950, he received a B.S. degree, majoring in plant pathology and minoring in bacteriology, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in plant pathology in 1953 and 1958, respectively. While working toward his Ph.D. degree, he spent two years with the Rockefeller Foundation in Colombia, and in 1958, he became the director of its plant pathology program at the Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario. He was promoted to director of the Rockefeller Potato Program in Bogota in 1963 and to director of the Plant Sciences of the Colombian Agricultural Institute in 1965.
Throughout his career in Colombia, Dr. Thurston was known for his calm insistence on accuracy and thoroughness. Though his colleagues often referred humorously to his obsession with neatness, this trait was respected and soon became a trademark of a student or research assistant fortunate enough to come under his direction.
Dr. Thurston and his associates published extensively on the diseases of rice, oats, sugarcane, bananas, and other tropical crops, but it was his piercing insight into the phytopathological problems confronting the potato grower that brought him international fame. Though an expert in research on fungicides and their application, he pioneered the discovery of new sources of resistance to such classic diseases as late blight (Phytophthora infestans) and brown rot (Pseudomonas solanacearum). The research breakthroughs led by Dr. Thurston and his team have enabled potato breeders throughout the world to look optimistically toward a solution to these scourges of potato production.
He has played a vital role in the selection of young scientists from developing countries, particularly in South America, for advanced training in the United States. His promotions in Colombia indicated his success in selecting and supervising the training of Colombian scientists to take over the direction of their own scientific and educational program. In 1967, Dr. Thurston joined the Department of Plant Pathology at Cornell University as professor of plant pathology and international agriculture. In that post, he showed exceptional leadership in training graduate students to deal with plant disease problems of the tropics and developing countries. He taught or participated in courses in tropical plant pathology, traditional agriculture, agriculture in the tropics, and other international agriculture courses. He conducted research on potatoes and other root and tuber crops, advised many graduate students, and published the book Tropical Plant Diseases with APS PRESS.
Dr. Thurston’s abilities as a teacher, director, and organizer of research, and his knowledge of plant pathology at the international level, have made him a widely sought consultant and speaker in the areas of crop protection, concepts of resistance, and international agricultural development. He has traveled extensively in Latin America, Asia, and Africa for Cornell and while consulting for CGIAR, FAO, and US/AID. He has been extremely active and effective in promoting the role of plant pathology in developing countries.
Dr. Thurston was chair of the APS International Cooperation Committee as well as a member of the Tropical Plant Pathology Committee.
Dr. Thurston was chair of the Board of Directors of the Consortium for International Crop Protection from 1985 to 1990. Recently, his major interest has been compiling and analyzing information on sustainable plant disease management practices of traditional farmers, most of which are cultural practices. He has published two books on these subjects: Sustainable Practices for Plant Disease Management in Traditional Farming Systems and Slash/Mulch Systems: Sustainable Methods for Tropical Agriculture. He remains active in teaching and writing since his retirement from Cornell University in 1995 and continues to reside in the area. He is a Fellow of APS and received the Award of Merit from the APS Northeastern Division in 1995.