Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Dilbagh S. Athwal, IRRI’s first deputy director general, passes away
Dilbagh S. Athwal, 88, a member of the early management team at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), passed away on 14 May at his residence in Toms River, New Jersey. He was born in Lyallpur, India (now Pakistan) on 12 October 1928.
A renowned Indian plant breeder, Dr. Athwal joined IRRI in 1967 (photo from that time) as its assistant director. In 1972, he was promoted to associate director and then, in 1976, he was appointed as the Institute’s very first deputy director general.
At IRRI, he administered the fledgling training program, supervised the research studies of postdoctoral fellows, and shared various administrative duties with IRRI’s first director general, Robert F. Chandler. Of his colleague, Chandler later wrote: “Athwal had sound judgment, was an indefatigable worker, and was highly regarded by the IRRI staff.”
While still at IRRI in 1975, in recognition of his outstanding work as an agricultural scientist, Dr. Athwal won the Padma Bhushan Award. It is the third-highest civilian award presented by the Government of India. Also in 1975, he took a sabbatical from IRRI and completed an MBA at Harvard University.
In 1954, Dr. Athwal earned his PhD in genetics and plant breeding at the University of Sydney in Australia and then, back in India, he became the first head of the Department of Plant Breeding at Punjab Agricultural University and did pioneering work that led to the development of the hybrid pearl millet variety, Bajra, in 1963. He went on to produce the iconic wheat variety, Kalyan, in collaboration with his colleague and friend Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. His work in wheat was instrumental in bringing the Green Revolution to Punjab, India.
In 1977, Dr. Athwal left IRRI to become program officer for Asia at the Rockefeller Foundation's International Agricultural Development Service (IADS) in New York under Sterling Wortman, former IRRI associate director who was then IADS president. In this position, he traveled extensively in Asia where he helped design and implement programs to increase food production.
His career also took him to Washington, D.C., and Winrock International in Little Rock, Arkansas, from where he retired as a senior vice president in 1991.
Dr. Athwal is survived by his wife Gurdev, son Barinder (wife Susan), son Harjit (wife Amardeep), and five grandchildren, Lisa, Neal, Jagdeep, Nishan, and Hernoor. He is also survived by many family members, including his nephew, Raghbir.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., 17th Floor, Chicago, IL 60601.
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