Tribute to Richard Bostock by Sara Dye

An Open Door

When I was a graduate student, every morning I would get off the elevator on the second floor of Hutchison and look to my left to see if the office door of my Ph.D. advisor, Distinguished Professor Richard Bostock, was open.  Almost always it was, and it would make me glad, because I knew if I walked in, I would be greeted with a genuine smile and a sincere, “How are you doing today, Sara?”.  See, when I think of Rick, I think of an open door; always welcoming, warm, and approachable.  Rick is a problem solver.  Any issue you might bring to him, no matter how big or small, and he is known to jump up and walk with you to find the solution, which inevitably he finds quite quickly.  It is no surprise that he has the nickname, “The Mayor”, and our plant pathology department could not be more privileged to have had him as a faculty member for 40 years.  I think it says almost everything that you need to know about Rick that during his recent “exit seminar”, in which he described his impressive scientific career, he took the time to acknowledge pretty much every single person he had worked with over the years with pictures and all.  Rick truly cares about uplifting others—something I am sure to which all his students over the years would attest.  Throughout his time as a professor in this department he has been quite in demand as a member of qualifying exam committees. What graduate student would not want to have a questioner who sincerely cares about their success and ensures that they have the PARTEE disease control acronym completely down pat?

Rick is a rather humble guy, so the fact that he has had an incredibly impressive, honor-filled 40+ year career as a groundbreaking plant pathologist is not the first thing that most people get to know about him.  Rick earned his B.S. degree in Biology with Distinction from Rhodes College in 1974 and a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology at the University of Kentucky in 1981. His pioneering Ph.D. work in identifying eicosapolyenoic fatty acids as elicitors of plant immune responses earned him a publication in Science and a one-way trip to California with his lovely wife Gennie to begin his new position as an assistant professor at UC Davis.  Throughout his UC Davis career, Rick has maintained an active research program balancing study of the biochemistry and molecular biology of plant-microbe interactions with applied research on fungal diseases of orchard crops.  His research, which has often been based in Phytophthora spp. pathosystems, has helped to elucidate the complex crosstalk between and coordination of plant stress signaling networks in disease predisposition and resistance. Areas of focus have included investigating the role of lipid-based signaling in plant immunity, abscisic acid (ABA) in disease susceptibility and resistance, and programmed cell death in response to pathogen elicitors. His work in orchard crop diseases has included extensive research to identify pathogenicity mechanisms of Monilinia fructicola and molecular markers for resistance against this brown rot pathogen.  He has also been on the cutting edge of investigation into new and emerging disease problems including Fusarium canker in almond, thousand cankers disease in walnut, and detection of cryptic Phytophthora infestans infection in ornamental nursery stock.   In addition to his research work, Rick has diligently served the UC Davis and wider plant pathology community. He was Plant Pathology Department Chair from 1999 to 2005, providing strong leadership and making innovative changes and advances.  He served as the founding Director of the Western Region of the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN), and in 2009 was appointed as the national executive director.  His leadership, education, and outreach were instrumental in the creation and organization of a widespread network of plant disease first detectors and responders capable of quickly managing disease outbreaks nationwide.  His impressive body of research and service work has earned him numerous awards and honors including induction as a fellow to the American Phytopathological Society in 2012, the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2013, and achievement of the rank of Distinguished Professor in 2019.

Anyone who has had the privilege of taking one of Rick’s classes knows that he can be quite a fungi (fun guy—a little mycology humor).  Rick genuinely cares about his students and strives to make students feel supported and valued.  I have never met anyone who replies to student emails as quickly or as thoroughly as Rick.  He takes the time to reach out to students who are struggling and truly wants his students to succeed.  While teaching, he lets his personality and humanity show in a way that makes him very accessible to students. He is completely unpretentious, earning the admiration and respect of students via his extensive command of the subject matter. I have learned so much co-teaching with Rick—how to organize, break down, and explain complex concepts in easily comprehensible ways, how to seamlessly integrate stories of real-life examples and personal experiences to engage student attention, and most of all, how to perfectly time my eye-rolls to match up with his rather frequent “dad-jokes” (many of which I have now stolen).

Rick has taught many classes over the years; here I will highlight a few. He was a fixture for decades at the helm of the upper-division undergraduate course, Introductory Plant Pathology (PLP 120), and has been integral in shaping the structure and curriculum into what it is today.  He worked with several different co-instructors in this course, most famously Professor Robert Gilbertson.  This pairing resulted in Rick earning another nickname, “the quiet one”, because Bob’s voice projection skills are a thing of legend. Between the two of them they know the location of every diseased plant in the Davis city limits, which they brought into the lab as examples. Rick also was a long-time instructor of the graduate course Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Plant-Microbe Interactions (PLP 210) which he co-instructed first with Professor Dave Gilchrist, followed by Professor Gitta Coaker.  Plant pathology graduate students have often been known to leave this class slightly disoriented, marveling at how these instructors made it possible to understand so much insanely complex yet extremely useful information in the span of 10 weeks.  In addition to these plant pathology courses, Rick also taught the highly popular lower-division Science and Society class, Feeding the World: Influences on the Global Food Supply (SAS 2).  He co-instructed this class with Professors George Bruening and Mike Davis for many years.  Recently Rick and I developed this class into an online version, SAS 2V, which was offered UC system-wide through cross-campus enrollment.  Rick provided the online students with a special treat--the introduction and conclusion videos of this class were set to his own exquisite and moving guitar stylings.

Speaking of Rick’s guitar stylings, I have a feeling that Rick will be spending a decent part of his well-earned retirement perfecting his technique.  Rick is an extremely talented guitarist, and many of us in the department have been lucky enough to hear him play.  My personal favorite is his very intricate and absolutely delightful version of “Happy Birthday”. I know that he will also be spending a lot of time with his much-loved family, hopefully having some awesome adventures with his wife Gennie and some jam sessions with his son Greg (who is an accomplished drummer).  Rick has promised that he will also make sure to regularly “check in” on his plant pathology family here in the department.  I am going to hold him to that because I am going to sincerely miss having my “scientific father” around to provide advice, guidance and wisdom.  I feel deeply fortunate and privileged to have had the honor of having Rick as my mentor.  I know that this is a feeling that all his former students share.   Rick has devoted 40 years to advancing the science of plant pathology, educating and mentoring so many students, and serving as a leader for this department and the greater plant pathology community.  But most of all, his door has always been open, ready for him to share advice, assistance, or kindness with anyone who might need it.  Rick is proof that nice guys do not finish last, in fact, they do quite well. Quite well indeed.