Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Living History

Yesterday I had the pleasure of having lunch with Professor Emeritus of Plant Breeding Dr. Royse P. Murphy. He is a living legend at age 96. He truly is a geezer many times over but his courtly manner belies that designation. His daily routine continues to be visiting his office on the Cornell campus and remaining conversant in issues of plant breeding. At our lunch, I took the opportunity to lead the conversation to his recollections of professional and personal life. Born in Kansas 1914 he grew up on a farm where horses were the main power source. He went on to the University of Kansas and later to the University of Minnesota to become educated in plant genetics and breeding. With stints at the Universities of Montana and Minnesota he eventually arrived at Cornell University in 1946. He had distinguished career at Cornell from 1946 until retirement in 1979 when he became Professor Emeritus. Post retirement he continues to be active in his profession even to this day at age 96.
He told me several stories during our lunch. One story relates to hearing about the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. The night before Pearl Harbor he and his wife were attending a party hosted by Norman Borlaug and his wife. He obviously moved in high intellectual circles since Norman Borlaug became a Nobel Prize Winner for his work on wheat varieties. Upon hearing of the Pearl Harbor attack he realized that his tenure at the University of Montana would be short. Thus he enlisted in the Navy and became a radar officer on a ship in the Pacific. His ship became one of the supply ships for the battle for Okinawa. He relates that he is grateful that his ship was not hit by enemy fire since they were supply aviation gasoline as one of their cargoes. On the way back to the U.S. west coast they heard of the end of the Japanese conflict and thus did not have to return to the Pacific islands again.
It has been a privilege to know Prof Murphy and I look forward to hearing more of his life stories.
Living history beats reading the history books.

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