Clarence A. (Bud) Ryan: A scientist who catalyzed excellence
© Washington State University
Clarence A. (Bud) Ryan, one of WSU’s preeminent scientists, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in October. Ryan pioneered the study of the innate immune response of plants. Prior to his work, plants were assumed to contain protease inhibitors all the time, as a deterrent to being eaten. Ryan discovered instead that plants make the inhibitors in response to an attack. He further showed that an attack on one part of a plant sets off chemical signals that spur production of inhibitors throughout the entire plant. Besides his scientific renown, Ryan was well known around campus for his graciousness—-and his ability on the basketball court. The following is excerpted from comments by College of Sciences dean Michael Griswold at Ryan’s memorial service.
Bud started his research program by buying a bag of potatoes at the local grocery store. In succeeding years his laboratory discovered and in plants. The research was innovative. The concepts were breakthroughs. Because of these scientific achievements, Bud was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1986, the first WSU scientist to be so selected. Out of the hundreds of thousands of scientists in the United States, only a select few are members of this exclusive academy. His total list of honors and awards is remarkable, and he is one of the world’s most cited scientific authors.
What has this meant to WSU? The scientific achievements of this one scientist have provided to WSU a measure of recognition and credibility that is difficult to quantify. WSU is currently regarded as one of the best places in the world to study plant molecular sciences, and we attract the best students and faculty in this area. Perhaps if Bud had not come to WSU, we would still have a good plant science program, but his presence and his reputation have catalyzed the excellence we currently have. All of us in research labs at WSU, even those of us not in plant sciences, know it is possible to emulate his success. That is what made him our hero—-he showed what is possible.
Through all of these honors Bud remained humble and even somewhat embarrassed by the fuss. He told me that the most enjoyable recognition he received when he became a member of the National Academy was when his basketball buddies from Colfax came and took him to lunch.
He also would bashfully tell the story of one of the times he was cited in a national publication. After some of his research papers were published about the capability of plants to protect themselves from attack by insects, Bud got a call from a reporter at the National Enquirer. Bud had no idea that the National Enquirer was a supermarket tabloid of questionable repute. Sometime later the National Enquirer published a picture of Bud Ryan, famed research scientist, holding his killer tomatoes.
Bud and I interacted in a number of nonacademic ways. In recent years Bud caught steelhead on my boat in the Snake River, and we spent a week in Canada fly-fishing for northern pike. For many years we met for lunch along with a ragtag group of faculty that solves the problems of the world and secretly runs the University.
What I remember most fondly is that Bud and I played basketball together three times a week. All of his noonball friends will remember the many times that Bud would “educate” a young hotshot student on the court. As time went by and Bud and I became the elder statesmen of noonball, we nearly always paired up and guarded each other. Sometime in the future someone will ask a trivia question about who was the highest scoring basketball player in WSU history. There will be only one right answer: Bud Ryan. We once estimated that over the course of his 40-plus years of noonball Bud probably scored well over 40,000 points—most of them over me.
We shared a lot of other time together, including many years of meeting at the golf course at 6 a.m. I don’t think Bud ever knew that the only reason I played golf was so I could spend that time with him.
To many who knew him well, Bud’s academic and athletic credentials pale in comparison to his credentials as a warm, caring, humble colleague and friend. He lived the concepts of “world class, face-to-face” and “trust and respect in all we do,” before these words became a part of our WSU culture. His life touched the lives of many others in important ways. His great achievements, his noble character, his courage, and his important impact on WSU made him our champion, our hero. Our role now is to honor his life and his memory by following his example.
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