Roy Dell Wilcoxson

May 1, 2018

By: Brian Steffenson, Professor and former advisee of Roy Wilcoxson
Plant Pathology Professor Roy D. Wilcoxson 1992

Roy D. Wilcoxson, 1992

Professor Roy D. Wilcoxson, aged 91, passed away peacefully due to natural causes on December 9, 2017 in West Plains, Missouri. Roy was born on January 12, 1926 to Roy Edwin and Bertha Maud (Karren) Wilcoxson in Kenilworth, Utah, a small town about 150 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.  He attended the local high school, but left before his senior year to enlist in the United States Navy during World War II. Roy proudly served as Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class during the war and was honorably discharged. However, he continued his service to the country by enlisting in the United States Air Force as a reservist, attaining the rank of Captain by the time he retired from the military in 1967. After World War II, Roy attended Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University) in Logan earning his B.S. degree in Agriculture in 1953.  He was then accepted into the graduate program of the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota. There he successfully defended his M.S. thesis entitled “Morphological studies on stem rust resistance” under the tutelage of Drs. J. J. Christensen and Helen Hart in 1955.  Roy continued his graduate studies in the department earning his Ph.D. degree with a dissertation entitled “A study of penetration by Puccinia graminis var. tritici” under Dr. J. J. Christensen in 1957.

Roy was hired as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota in 1957. He rose through the academic ranks and was promoted to Associate Professor and later Professor. Roy contributed greatly to the department in teaching, research and administration during his tenure as a faculty member. He taught many courses including Ecology of Plant Pathogens, Insects in Relation to Plant Disease, Disease Diagnosis and Control, Disease Resistance, Introductory Plant Pathology, and Diseases Caused by Fungi. He was an exceptional and highly respected mentor to many graduate students, especially those from developing countries. Many graduate students fondly remember Roy as a kind, patient and gentle man who taught them valuable lessons about life in general in addition to science.  During his faculty career, Roy was the primary or secondary adviser to 29 M.S. students and 35 Ph.D. students. Many of these graduate students distinguished themselves in their own careers becoming internationally-recognized researchers and leaders. One of Roy’s most celebrated graduate students was Sir Bent Skovmand who worked to improve cereal crops and preserve valuable genetic diversity. 

Roy worked on a number of different crops (corn, forage legumes, grasses, wheat, barley, and oat) and pathogens (ascomycetous and basidiomycetous fungi, bacteria, and viruses) during his career. He was widely known as an expert in cereal pathology. One of his most significant contributions in research was on slow-rusting or adult plant resistance in cereal crops. Today, this type of resistance is being widely deployed due to its greater stability against variable pathogen populations. Roy was an important team member of many crop improvement programs. With his breeding colleagues, he developed and released six oat, three wheat, and two barley cultivars. The enhanced yield, quality and disease resistance of these cultivars contributed significantly to the economy of the state and region. 

Roy was keenly interested in international agriculture, contributing his time and energy to this cause as a researcher and administrator.  He served as part of the leadership team for the highly successful USAID-funded “Morocco Project” which modernized that country’s agricultural research and brought many excellent students to the department. Roy was an active member on several committees and initiatives of the American Phytopathological Society (APS). For his many significant contributions to the discipline of plant pathology, he was honored as an APS Fellow in 1993.

Roy officially retired from the department in 1991 after a 35-year career as a faculty member. After his retirement, he and his wife Iva moved to West Plains to be closer to family. Roy had many enjoyments in his life including gardening, reading, family history and genealogy. He was a devoted member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served as a patriarch for 25 years.  

Roy was preceded in death by his parents; his brothers Garth Wilcoxson and Floyd Wilcoxson; and his sisters Beulah Nichols and Dorothy Andereen. He is survived by his loving wife of 68 years, Iva Wall Wilcoxson; his children Bonnie Bailey, Paul Wilcoxson, Karren Ray Murray, and John Wilcoxson; 12 grandchildren; 23 great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was buried with military honors at Howell County Memorial Park Cemetery in Pomona, Missouri.