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July 5, 2006

Dr. Harold Olmo (1909-2006)

I just heard through the grapevine (er, grape breeders mailing list), that Dr. Harold Olmo has died. I've never met the man, but it's impossible not to feel some connection when you've read many dozens of papers (it's essentially impossible to study grape genetics and not become familiar with his work) and seen nearly as many grapevines he produced, and although he clearly lived a very long, very full life it's always a bit sad to see the end of some one who has contributed so much to the field.

Dr. Olmo worked as a fruit breeder at the University of California at Davis, from the 1930's until his retirement in 1977, and maintained his involvement even into his emeritus years. An accomplished grape breeder and geneticist, his work in table grape breeding has laid the foundation for much of today's seedless grape industry, and many of his cultivars are still widely grown. He traveled the world in search novel germplasm, combing the original range of Vitis vinifera for new and interesting vines and nut trees, even braving tribal warfare to scour the hills of Afghanistan with an escort of local soldiers. The material he brought back fills the national clonal germplasm repository in Davis and his herbarium specimens are a valuable resource to botanists, particularly given the difficulty involved in obtaining Afghani specimens at this time.

Although Dr. Olmo may be gone, his cultivars and their descendants will live on, as well his contributions to the literature. If I were to leave a tenth the legacy he has, I would consider myself to have been a success as a breeder and scientist.

A more complete account of his life is available in a UC Davis press release.

My sincerest condolences go out to his family and those close to him.

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