Larry Teuber Tribute
Larry served as the Executive Director of the CCIA since 2006. In addition to his important role at the CCIA, he was a Professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences where he contributed in teaching and research in alfalfa and wild rice breeding, he served as the director for the departmental Foundation Seed Program for many years, and was an inaugural instructor for the Plant Breeding Academy. Larry will truly be missed by his many friends, faculty, and colleagues.
A Tribute to Larry Ross Teuber
By G. Bradley Hooker, Senior Science Writer, Department of Plant Sciences, UCD
With white wings and a lemon yellow body, the silverleaf whitefly is a sucking insect that pulls vital nutrients from plants. On alfalfa, it secretes a sweet honeydew in massive amounts, leaving a rich environment for sooty mold fungi, which render the hay unsellable. The moment this invader first appeared on California alfalfa, Plant Sciences’ Larry Teuber dove headlong into an extended battle with the pest.
As UC Davis’ alfalfa specialist, Teuber brought a methodical, thoughtful approach to the project. As with all his breeding and genetics work, he carried a professionalism that often pushed those he worked with to the limits of their skills, according to retired Cooperative Extension Specialist Kitty Schlosser, a colleague who worked closely with Teuber while he was the executive director of the California Crop Improvement Association, a position he had held since 2006.
In meetings, Teuber contributed his unparalleled perspective at every opportunity. In his research, Teuber had a lasting impact on the success of alfalfa production across California. When the silverleaf whitefly threatened the industry in the 1980s, Teuber fought the invasion with solid, aggressive plant breeding skills.
“He knew what it was going to take,” says Plant Sciences Professor Doug Shaw, “and within three generations he actually had the materials that have helped resolve that issue statewide.”
A geneticist, a longtime teacher and an agronomist, Teuber was just as much at home driving a combine harvester as he was with complex statistics. He did what he loved for all of his 37 years at UC Davis, slowing only when overwhelmed by sickness. In that time, he had grown to be a fixture in the nation’s tight-knit alfalfa community as well.
“Larry and I knew each other since he was on my interview committee,” says Shaw. “We probably shared academic interests more than any other two people. So we were very close colleagues and good friends as well.”
Larry Teuber had come to UC Davis nearly ten years earlier, in 1977, as an associate professor.
“What I enjoyed with Larry,” says Shaw, “was something old-fashioned professors would treasure, which is sort of that joy of discovery.”
Shaw, working on a problem for 20 years or more—as was often the case—would come to Teuber when he finally arrived at a solution. “That’s a real neat way to look at that,” Teuber might say. “I never figured that out either.” At other times, Shaw received a more abated response, such as: “Well, I learned that as an undergraduate.”
In the moments when one of the two colleagues would suddenly realize his methods, which were somewhat theoretical, had actually worked, both Shaw and Teuber would marvel at the results—what they should have had great confidence in all along, says Shaw.
“Both of us shared the goal to accomplish tangible research outcomes, not so much the basic and fundamental research, which was fine, but real life tangible benefits,” he says.
While he and Teuber shared the joy of discovery, Plant Sciences’ Charlie Brummer and Teuber grew close through the alfalfa breeding community.
“I took Larry and some other folks to an Atlanta Braves game as a grad student,” says Brummer, recalling the 1992 National Alfalfa Improvement Conference. “And that’s where I met him for the first time.”
The two kept in touch throughout his subsequent professional career, with Brummer incorporating much of Teuber’s research on alfalfa’s winter hardiness and fall dormancy into his own work: a boon for those deciding where alfalfa should grow.
About two years ago, they teamed up with genetics professor Linda Walling, from the University of California, Riverside, for a project that would genetically map a resistance to whitefly in alfalfa.
“We put a grant together—it didn’t get funded, but did get really good reviews, outstanding in fact,” says Brummer. “I was working with Larry and had some opportunities to continue that and several other projects that, unfortunately, won’t happen now.”
With a dwindling number of alfalfa specialists in the world, Teuber’s work on gene flow in transgenic alfalfa stands out as the definitive source of research. Rarer still was the fact that Brummer, who recently started as the Plant Breeding Center director [http://www.plantsciences.ucdavis.edu/plantsciences/features/recent_news/spring2014/brummer.htm], came in before Teuber was to retire, an overlap that would have given a special continuity to the program.
“It’s so ironic that it’s the one case where it could have had a big, positive effect and it didn’t work out,” says Brummer.
The same year Teuber had begun that project, he bumped into Brummer’s major professor at the University of Georgia, Joe Bouton, whom Teuber also knew well. It was an alfalfa conference at Cornell University. Teuber and Bouton hadn’t seen each other in a long while. Yet on a hayride, as part of a tour for the conference, they were seated next to one another and ended up spending three or four hours together. Later, Bouton wouldn’t know Teuber was battling pancreatic cancer until Brummer broke the news of his death. But that day still stands out to Bouton.
“Joe told me that he had a really good visit with Larry then, talking about how everything’s going to hell and the old days were better and so on,” says Brummer.
Many of the things Teuber was working on at the time of his passing will likely not be done again or tested for validation. “And as with everything in alfalfa,” Brummer says, “that’s it. That’s all we’ve got. There’s no one else to do any work on it.” But some aspects will move into Brummer’s breeding program, such as his research on whiteflies and fall dormancy and, new to Brummer, his project on wild rice.
“We had plans to go down to the Imperial Valley and look at some projects going on, talk about some things,” says Brummer. “That’s the way life goes I guess.”
Read more about Larry Teuber’s long career in Dan Putnam’s tribute.
Larry asked that any donations be made to the “Larry Teuber Seed Research Program” (checks payable to the California Wild Rice Advisory Board, 4125 Temescal St., Suite F, Fair Oaks, CA 95628) or to a memorial set up at Youth With A Mission’s University of the Nations (Check payable to University of the Nations — Kona Foundation [UNKF], with a separate memo indicating it is for the “Larry Teuber Memorial Fund,” 75-5851 Kuakini Highway, Suite 256, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740).