Rubén Durán, professor emeritus at Washington State University (WSU), passed away at the age of 89 on August 10, 2014. Rubén was borne September 30, 1924 in Los Angeles, CA, to Enrique L. Duran and Catalina Gutierrez. He attended public schools in Los Angeles. Upon graduation, he joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and was discharged from the Navy in 1948. In 1943, he married Rita Gonzales from Montebello, CA, and they were married for 67 years until Rita passed away in 2010. Rubén went to college under the G.I. Bill, graduating with honors with a BS in Agriculture from California State Polytechnic College in 1954. He was then accepted into graduate school in Plant Pathology and Mycology at WSU, where he studied under the direction of George W. Fisher, one of world’s foremost ustilaginologists. He held both a teaching assistantship and a research assistantship while attending graduate school. He received his PhD in 1958 with a monograph of genus Tilletia as his thesis. In 1961, he and G.W. Fisher published The Genus Tilletia, a 138-page world monograph on the genus. Following graduation, Rubén was offered a temporary position at WSU as Acting Instructor and Plant Pathologist teaching mycology and general plant pathology. He left WSU in 1959 for a permanent position with the USDA in Pomona, CA, where he conducted research for several years on postharvest physiology of diseases of citrus, nut crops, and subtropical fruits.
Rubén was offered a faculty position in the Department of Plant Pathology and Mycology at WSU and returned to Pullman in 1961. He rose through the ranks to Professor in 1971 and retired in 1989 as an emeritus. Rubén was the first Chicano to attend graduate school at WSU and the first Chicano faculty member in the university. He was hired to teach the Mycology classes and continue research on the smut fungi to maintain the preeminent stature of the Department in research on the Ustilaginales. The Department had a strong mycology emphasis with five classes in mycology, and he taught three of them: General Mycology, Basidiomycetes, and Lower Fungi, which was a significant teaching load in the Department. These classes had laboratories and he always had specimens ready for students to examine. He also taught for a number of years a Field Plant Pathology course in cooperation with plant pathologists at the WSU Branch Stations. Students toured the branch stations and saw and heard about diseases and research being conducted on these problems. Rubén was highly regarded by students and received high marks for his teaching. He was hard-nosed and demanding and did not brook mediocrity. Rubén also served on numerous graduate student committees and was known for his critique of thesis writing and for helping students improve their scientific writing.
Rubén became a world authority on the Ustilaginales. His research covered numerous topics, species, and hosts, from dwarf bunt of wheat to onion smut, and from genetics to taxonomy. His monograph on Tilletia was a major contribution to the taxonomy of the genus. He was invited along with C.S. Holton and J.A. Hoffmann to write a chapter on “Variation in smut fungi,” which was published in The Annual Review of Phytopathology in 1968. Rubén also had a chapter on the Ustilaginales in The Fungi, An Advanced Treatise Vol. IVB. He was involved in research on dwarf bunt (TCK) of wheat because of the politically sensitive issue of the embargo placed by the Chinese government on wheat from the Pacific Northwest due to presence of TCK teliospores in the grain.
In the early 1960’s, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established a commission for the purpose of publishing a complete flora of the Western Hemisphere between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. This effort became known as Flora Neotripica. Rubén was asked and accepted to be the coordinator for the Ustilaginales. He had already started collecting smut fungi from Mexico in 1961, and he continued his Forays into many parts of the country until 1983. Part of his work was funded by the National Science Foundation. He spent years studying various aspects of the Mexican smut fungi, and in 1987 published an exceptionally beautifully illustrated and well written book entitled “Ustilaginales of Mexico: Taxonomy, Symptomatology, Spore Germination and Basidial Cytology.” Over 150 species are described in this book which includes dozens of new species, such as Sporisorium rhynchelytri and Tilletia ixophori. In one of his forays in 1972, Rubén discovered Karnal bunt in Mexico, but when he tried to publish the occurrence and biology of this wheat smut in a professional journal, the reviewers did not think it was of sufficient importance to warrant publication! Time would prove them decidedly wrong. Rubén became an expert in identifying grass species since many smut fungi were pathogens of the Poaceae. During his university career, Rubén published around 50 articles on smut fungi. His graduate students all worked on various smut fungi and published their work. As a mentor, Rubén stressed good writing practices and was a real stickler about grammar and clarity.
Rubén was a member of the American Phytopathological Society, the Mycological Society of America, the Mexican Mycological Society, and the Society for the Advancement of Chicano and Native Americans in Science. Because of his Chicano background, Rubén was very active in efforts to attract more minority students into college and into the sciences, plus secure a voice for them within the WSU system. He and Rita were also active in organizations trying to work for social justice and improve the lives of minorities in the United States. He was proud of the fact that he had participated in the grape boycott in the Pullman area to support the United Farm Workers. Rubén served on a number of committees that promoted those ideas such as the American Minorities Studies Committee, the Estudios Chicanos Advisory Council, the Governor’s Task Force on Rural Affairs, the Governor’s Commission on Mexican – American affairs, and the National Steering Committee to establish a Federation of Chicano and Native-American Scientists. He also worked tirelessly with others to establish a Chicano Studies Program at WSU.
Following retirement, Rubén and Rita moved to Hemet in southern California where they attended an acre of beautiful garden and fruit trees for the next 18 years until declining health forced a move to Hood River, OR, to be close to children. In his retirement, Rubén continued his study of Latin, enjoyed sport events, and still liked to look through the microscope. Rubén and Rita are survived by five daughters, Rebecca, Alicia, Celinda, Therese and Katy and one son, Dennis, plus seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Professor Emeritus Rubén Durán was a true scholar and scientist, an educator, a proud Chicano, a humanist, and an admired colleague.