21) ICRISAT's First Director, Ralph Cummings, Passes Away (June 2001)

Dr Ralph W. Cummings (1911-2001)
"ICRISAT is determined... to become truly a world center of excellence... [to] bring about a revolution in improved levels and dependability of production of major food crops of the semi-arid, seasonally dry, rainfed tropical regions of the world...." This was the manifesto launched by Dr Ralph W. Cummings, ICRISAT's first Director, whose passing away we mark this week.

As Director General Dr William Dar observed, "Dr Cummings' stature in the CG system, in agricultural development in general, and in India in particular, will always be immense." (See Dr Dar's full text here.)

Dr Cummings leaves behind his wife Eunice, and three sons and a daughter.

Dr Ralph Cummings (b. 1911 in Reidsville, North Carolina, USA), took over as Director ( the Institute did not then have a Director General) in September 1972 and served in that capacity until March 1977. That period saw the infrastructure development which underpins nearly three decades of ICRISAT's research. The Director's Introduction in the second Annual Report gives factoids such as, "More than 10,000 hours of tractor operation were logged in 1974/75!"

Dr Cummings came well prepared for the task of building up from scratch an Institute such as ICRISAT. With a Ph.D. in Soil Science from Ohio State University in 1938, he worked in a variety of capacities as scientist (Cornell and North Carolina State Universities) and science-administrator (Rockefeller and Ford, among others). Immediately prior to coming here, Dr Cummings was Director at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

His links with international agricultural research for development and with the CGIAR in particular were extensive and extended well before and beyond his Directorship of ICRISAT: as late as 1991 he was a Trustee of the International Livestock Centre for Africa in Ethiopia (now ILRI). Dr Cummings' work took him all over the world, but it was his stay in India that he remembered most. As his daughter, Mary Ann Hardee observes, "His years in India had a profound mark on not only him, but each member of our family."

Dr Cummings' family extended far beyond to include everybody at ICRISAT. And he knew his family well. Mr. Deepak Pawar (IRMP) remembers that when Dr Cummings visited ICRISAT last, "he addressed each and every staff by their names. What great memory he had!" Old-timers will remember the Cummings for their grace and hospitality (his wife Mary died tragically in 1989; the Mary Cummings park at Patancheru is named after her).

Dr Cummings' crucial role in setting up this "center of excellence" was widely noted and honored. He received honorary doctorates from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Punjab Agricultural University, and G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, in India, and from North Carolina State, and Ohio State universities in USA. In fact, as Mr D K Mehta, PSD, reminds us, "a laboratory in the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, is named after Dr Cummings. This shows how closely Dr Cummings interacted with the Indian Agriculture Program." Not surprising then that Dr Y. L. Nene, former Deputy Director General, says, "A truly sincere friend of India is no more."

Numerous people still here at ICRISAT remember Dr Cummings. We have collected these reminiscences – some humorous, all touching – click here to read them.


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