Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Gelia T. Castillo (1928-2017): Helping science to serve a human purpose

                                                                                         Photos by Gene Hettel
By Gene Hettel

It is with deep sadness that the International Rice Research institute (IRRI) announces the passing of Dr. Gelia Tagumpay Castillo, 89, on Saturday, 5 August. Gelia, who was a Philippine National Scientist and long-time IRRI consultant, had been ill for some time.

Born on 3 March 1928 in Pagsanjan, Laguna, Philippines, she was an internationally respected rural sociologist. Her outstanding publications are major and definitive works on Philippine agricultural and rural development.

Her books include All in a Grain of Rice, known to be the first book written by a Filipino about the Filipino farmer's response to new technology, and Beyond Manila, cited as an in-depth and analytical study of the actual problems and needs of the rural areas in relation to countryside development. These works gave Filipinos insight on their own rural development efforts and their attempt to reach the farmer and the rural poor. Throughout her professional life, she was guided by the precept that “science must serve a human purpose.”

Gelia earned her AB (psychology), MS (rural sociology), and PhD (rural sociology) degrees, respectively, at the University of the Philippines (1948), Pennsylvania State University (1958), and Cornell University (1960).

She began her professional career as an instructor in psychology and sociology in the Department of Agricultural Education, College of Agriculture, University of the Philippines (UP, 1953-57). She went on to become an assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor of rural sociology at the UP College of Agriculture, respectively, 1960-66, 1966-72, and 1972-88). In 1988, she was appointed to the highest rank of university professor (one of the first six appointees to such a position at UP, which she held until her retirement in 1993). On 3 March 1993, she was appointed as professor emeritus.

In 1999, she was conferred the rank and title of National Scientist by the President of the Philippines. She also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the UP Alumni Association (1975), the Rizal Pro Patria Award (1976), and the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the UP College of Agriculture (1979).

Outside the Philippines, she was a teaching and research assistant and visiting professor in the Department of Rural Sociology, Cornell University, 1958-60 and 1966-67, respectively.

Gelia makes a point during IRRI's 2010 science review. 
At IRRI, she served as a visiting scientist in the Social Science Division during the mid-1980s and was a consultant to the Institute beginning in 1994 through to 2013. Recently made an IRRI scientist emeritus, she was truly the grande dame of the Institute community.

She was contributing her social science expertise to the early efforts of the Institute’s fledgling Agricultural Economics Department as far back as the 1960s. More than half a century later, she was still asking piercing questions at Thursday seminars and making pithy on-the-mark observations during IRRI’s annual scientific reviews, like this synopsis given at the conclusion of the 2010 review when she emphasized the importance of the Global Rice Science Partnership.

Her 2009 IRRI Pioneer Interview (depicted in the photo montage at the top) displayed her great enthusiasm, zest, and love for rice, rural sociology, and life itself.

IRRI Director General Matthew Morell noted: “Over recent years, Gelia continued to regularly attend events at IRRI and, despite her declining health, provided us with vibrant examples of intellectual vitality, lifelong curiosity, and passion for knowledge. She was a truly remarkable person.”

IRRI Director General Emeritus Robert Zeigler, who worked closely with Gelia during her final years at IRRI, recently stated, “She was a tireless champion for our relations with the national agricultural research systems. She always reminded me of how important training was and is for IRRI to remain relevant.”

Gelia is survived by three children, Evello (Bobby) Castillo, Gertrudes Castillo Holder, and Nina T. Castillo-Caradang; six grandchildren; and one great grandchild. She was preceded in death by her husband, Leopoldo S. Castillo, who was professor emeritus at the UP Institute of Animal Science.

In lieu of flowers, colleagues and friends may give a donation in honor of Gelia to the Philippine Sociological Society.

Listen to some of the speakers at a memorial service for Gelia attended by IRRI colleagues held on 9 August 2017 at the Resurrection Chapel of St. Therese on the UPLB campus in Los BaƱos, Laguna.

Other reports: GMA News | Philippine Sociological Society

Learn more about IRRI (www.irri.org) or follow us on social media and networks (all links down the right column).

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