Benjamin Ferris Lownsbery




 Dr. Benjamin Ferris Lownsbery, known as “Ben” to those who knew him, was born July 28, 1920 in Wilmington, Delaware and graduated from Wilmington High School.   He began his academic career in 1938 at the University of Delaware majoring in Biology and was awarded his B.A. Degree in 1942.  During the next three years, he worked for the DuPont Chemical Co. at a gunpowder plant in Oklahoma.

In 1945 after World War II ended, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Cornell University where he came under the tutelage of Dr. William Mai.   Dr. Mai introduced Ben to the golden nematode, Globodera rostochiensis, and the fascinating science of Nematology which set his career interests for the rest of his life.  He received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1950 and served briefly as an Assistant Professor at Cornell.  That same year he joined the USDA in Beltsville, Maryland where he worked on the Golden Nematode Project on Long Island.  The next two and one-half years, Ben served as an Assistant Plant Pathologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.  Ben’s research interest focused on the cyst forming nematodes, and among other reports, he described a new species, Heterodera tabacum, which he co-authored with his wife, Joyce.  In December 1953 he was recruited to join the newly established faculty of nematologists which was administratively in the Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis.  Ben was appointed a Lecturer in 1953 and retired as Professor of Nematology in 1983. 

Dr. Lownsbery’s responsibility was to study nematodes affecting tree fruit and nut crops in California with special attention to developing procedures for establishing proof of pathogenic effects on plants suffering from nematode attacks.  One of his most noteworthy contributions was a solution for the bacterial canker disease of peaches caused by Pseudomonas syringae. Jointly with Drs. James DeVay and Harley English in the Department of Plant Pathology, they proved that the ring nematode, Mesocriconema xenoplax, feeding on the roots of peach predisposed the trees to the bacterium which ultimately killed the trees.  In 1971 the American Society of Horticulture Science honored him for helping to develop nematode-resistant peach trees. 


Dr. Lownsbery had an inquiring spirit in his research which impressed colleagues and fellow workers. It was known that a simple association of a given nematode species with plant injury was judged insufficient evidence to conclude nematodes were the cause of injury, even if the association was commonly found and widespread.  He made many valuable contributions on this subject during his career and helped develop schemes to test pathogenicity of a given species of nematode by subjecting the host plants to logarithmically increasing numbers.  Such procedures are routinely used throughout the world today.  He was a productive researcher and author or co-author more than 140 scientific publications.


Besides his research, Dr. Lownsbery taught formal courses in General Plant Nematology, Nematode Pathogenicity, and Nematode Pathogenicity to Plants and directed graduate students in M.Sc. and/or Ph.D. programs.  In all his contacts with students, he required the highest standards of thorough and well designed research.  He earned the appreciation and respect of all his students which is still clearly sustained after their graduations.

Dr. Lownsbery contributed in many other ways to the university community by his willingly to serve on campus committees and participate generously in departmental affairs. He was also active in the Society of Nematologists serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Nematology from 1978-1980.


Benjamin F. Lownsbery was an avid gardener, enjoyed outdoor activities especially hiking, and was a member of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society.   He died on July 14, 2000 at the age of 79.  His wife Joyce passed away on November 6, 2001.  Both are survived by their daughter, Jill Watson and her husband Robert.


Prepared by Harry K. Kaya, Howard Ferris, Dewey Raski


Lownsbery's work valuable to farmers

By Steve Gibson
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
(Published July 18, 2000)

Benjamin F. Lownsbery, 79, a University of California, Davis, professor who was an internationally recognized expert on roundworms, died Friday of complications from Parkinson's disease.

As a professor of nematology, he devoted years of study to, among other things, the role roundworms played in diseases of fruit and nut trees.

"His research was very thorough . . . (and) brought out results which ultimately were important to fruit and nut crop growers," said Dewey Raski, a retired professor who worked with Dr. Lownsbery.

Dr. Lownsbery was the author or co-author of more than 141 scientific publications and was editor in chief of the Journal of Nematology from 1978 until 1980.

Dr. Lownsbery came to UC Davis in 1953 as a lecturer and retired from the faculty as a full professor in 1983.

He taught an introductory course in nematology to undergraduates, but most of his time was spent working with graduate students and conducting research, according to his wife, Joyce Lownsbery.

He became interested in nematodes while he was a graduate student at Cornell University after World War II, his wife said. The potato fields of Long Island had become infested with a worm called the golden nematode, she said. Crops were being destroyed and the federal government funded the research effort.

"That's how he got started," his wife said. "That gave him money to do his research, money for his Ph.D."

Benjamin Ferris Lownsbery Jr. was born in Wilmington, Del., the only child of a mechanical engineer and a schoolteacher. After graduating from high school in Wilmington, he attended the University of Delaware. During World War II, he worked for DuPont making black powder for munitions. Shortly after the war ended, he enrolled at Cornell.

Immediately after earning his doctorate, he was hired as a nematologist by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltville, Md. He then worked three years in New Haven, Conn., at the Connecticut agricultural experiment station.

At the Davis campus, he was known as a tenacious researcher who "was also a very pleasant person to work with," Raski said. "He took his share of extra work, committee work from the dean's office, whatever was needed. He was always willing to help."

In 1971, the American Society for Horticultural Science honored him for his work in developing worm-resistant peach trees. He belonged to the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and the American Phytopathological Society.

Survivors include his wife of 47 years, the former Joyce Hagemeyer, who resides in Davis, and a daughter, Jill Lownsbery of Flagstaff, Ariz.

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