Jerome (“Jerry”) Eugene Dimitman (1920-2011), highly respected plant pathologist, professor, mentor, and leader, passed away in his sleep of a stroke on Dec. 14, 2011, surrounded by his own beloved Kwa Luk Gardens of Chinese tropical fruits, an impressive orchard with stricter plant import restrictions than most countries, and where he developed the Wong Pummelo and other unique cultivars. He was 91.
Jerry earned his B.S. in botany at UC Berkeley in 1943, after which he enlisted in the Navy and served in World War II in the Pacific and east Asia where he commanded tenders and developed an intense interest in tropical fruits. After the war he remained in the Naval Reserve until the 1970s. In 1949 he completed a master’s, and in 1958 a Ph.D. in plant pathology, both recorded at UC Berkeley, although he studied plant pathology under Kenneth Baker at UCLA, and completed his doctoral work on Physiological Studies on Two Phytophthora Species Pathogenic to Citrus at the Citrus Experiment Station of the fledgling UC Riverside.
In 1949, Jerry was hired as a faculty member at the early southern California Voorhis Unit (San Dimas campus) of California State Polytechnic College. Jerry quickly applied his vision and leadership to the development of the plant sciences and particularly plant pathology at Cal Poly. He must be recognized first for his absolute dedication to the education and professional development of students. His enthusiasm and inspiration soon sent students into graduate work on plant pathology. In 1961 Jerry became chair of the Biological Sciences Department at Cal Poly’s new Pomona campus, a position he held for 12 years. His leadership resulted in the hiring of a diverse faculty in botany, zoology, and microbiology, which he skillfully assembled and nurtured into an exceptionally cooperative and effective group of teachers and research scientists. Over his 42 years at the campus, Jerry, who taught several lecture and field courses in both the Colleges of Agriculture and Science, steered literally hundreds of students into graduate work and many careers, including an impressive number in plant pathology, mycology, and related fields. He was a “natural” teacher who excelled especially in the field where he brought students to agriculture and where the “learn by doing” philosophy of Cal Poly University produced some of its greatest rewards. It was not uncommon to see Jerry’s general plant pathology class well attended by students with interest in pre-medical preparation, zoology, bacteriology, in addition to those in plant sciences. In 1972, Jerry was Cal Poly Pomona’s nominee for Outstanding Professor of the California State University system. He was a contributor to perhaps the first APS conference on teaching of plant pathology, held at Washington State University in the 1950s. He retired from Cal Poly as Professor Emeritus in 1983, but did part-time instruction and special projects there until 1990.
In 1971-1972, he served on a Cal Poly team for the KATE Project in Greece to develop biological and agricultural curricula for five technical campuses. In 1982 he was a member of a design team for horticultural improvement and training for a USAID program in support of the Yemen Arab Republic. Jerry was involved in assessing the health of citrus and other tree fruits. He also consulted on banana disease and other problems in Guatemala.
Jerry provided generous and unfailing outreach and diverse services to agriculture, particularly in pathological and horticultural areas of the citrus and avocado industries throughout his professional career and beyond. He was a founding contributor to the APS Foundation.
In 1987 he commenced 13 years of service as a research consultant for the California Citrus Research Board, evaluating research proposals for funding, and following progress in funded programs. Later he was appointed a member of the Board for nine years. On July 8, 2010, in honor of Jerry’s multifaceted service, the Citrus Research Board named its new disease detection and monitoring center at Riverside, CA the “Jerry Dimitman Laboratory.” He also contributed to ongoing progress at the USDA/UC Riverside National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Citrus and Dates. On Nov. 16, 2010, Jerry received a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Citrus Institute for 25 years of service to the industry.
In 1969, 1970 and 1984, Jerry was a co-author with J. H. Wu on articles in Virology and Phytopath. J. dealing with physiological studies on TMV-resistance and TMV movement in beans as affected by heat, UV irradiation leaf structure, and callose deposition; and by sugar and light.