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Dr. Bill Meredith — A Living Legend

It isn’t often that we throw around the word “legend” when describing someone who has invested any amount of time in serving the U.S. cotton industry. But Dr. Bill Meredith, research cotton geneticist for USDA-ARS in Stoneville, Miss., might be the exception to the rule.

On Sunday, Aug. 29, I had the privilege of attending a retirement reception for Meredith, and in keeping with his wishes, it was a low-key event. Several hundred of his friends and associates came to the Capps Center at Stoneville and spent more than two hours eating cake, sipping punch and reminiscing with the guest of honor. There were no speeches or awards handed out. By design, Meredith’s co-workers complied with his wishes and made it informal. It was simply a chance for everyone to shake his hand, swap stories and thank him for nearly 50 years of service to the industry.

Nobody has to wonder about Meredith’s contributions to the National Cotton Variety Test program, which was originally created in 1960 to standardize the collection and analysis of field data necessary to objectively evaluate new upland and pima varieties. The USDA-ARS program recently celebrated its 50th anniversary at the 2010 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans, and, quite fittingly, Meredith gave a special report on the history of the program. It seems like he has been involved in every major breakthrough in cotton breeding and research for as long as anyone can remember.

What sets Meredith apart from many of his colleagues in the research community is that he has the ability to communicate with anyone – co-workers, scientists, farmers and, yes, even the ag media. He wants anyone who will listen to understand why cotton genetic research is important. That in itself makes him a special person. It takes patience to explain cotton genetics to the average person, and Meredith has an abundance of that trait.

We also are told that he will continue to be actively involved in genetic research at ARS but will work fewer hours. So, in one sense, he may be retiring, but he will still conduct research and collaborate with fellow cotton breeders such as Dr. Fred Bourland in Arkansas and Dr. John Gannaway in Texas, who retired two years ago.

We offer our congratulations to Bill Meredith. If anyone has earned the right to slow down and enjoy something vaguely resembling retirement, he is that person. Conversely, it’s also nice to know he’ll continue to be around as a trusted source of information and guidance for the industry.

Without his contributions, a lot of the breakthroughs U.S. cotton breeding research has made through the years would never have happened.