Art Thompson, 1918–2008
Retired horticulturist Dr. Arthur "Art" Howard Thompson, who worked as a pomologist in Washington State and later in Maryland, died on August 15 at the age of 90. He had suffered complications from cancer.
Thompson was born in Duluth, Minnesota, and earned a bachelor's degree in science from the University of Minnesota. Bypassing the master's degree level, he earned a doctorate from the University of Maryland in 1945. That same year, he married Isabella Blackhall and moved to Washington State to begin his career as a pomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Wenatchee, where he worked with Dr. Jack Batjer.
In 1950, he moved to the East Coast to work as a horticulturist with the University of West Virginia at the Kearneysville Experiment Station. Two years later, he became pomologist at the University of Maryland in College Park, where he worked until his retirement in 1983. He enjoyed the mix of research, teaching, and extension service. His students included Dr. Don Heinicke, a former USDA researcher and orchardist in Wenatchee, and Dr. Anita Azarenko, horticulturist at Oregon State University.
Thompson was a fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science. He received many awards during his career, including the M.A. Blake Award for Distinguished Graduate Teaching from the ASHS and an Excellence in Teaching award from the University of Maryland College of Agriculture. He was also honored by the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association and the Maryland State Horticultural Society for distinguished service.
Thompson traveled nationally to meet with and learn from his contemporaries and fruit producers. He also toured with the IDFTA to learn about fruit production in Europe and Australia. Many of the people he contacted, such as Grady Auvil in Orondo, Washington, became lifelong friends, according to information from his family.
Bob Black of Thurmont, Maryland, said Thompson arranged with his father, Harry, to test new apple varieties at his farm. As a result, the Blacks were among the first to grow the Gala apple.
Thompson's former colleague, horticulturist Dr. Frank Gouin, recalls budding virus-free apples and rootstocks with him at the Black orchard. He also worked with Thompson in studying the use of composted sewage sludge in establishing peach trees and the use of ground tire mulch to cure zinc deficiency in apples.
"Art Thompson was not only a scholar but a dedicated gentleman and leader," he recalled.
Thompson continued to follow fruit industry advances even after he retired and maintained his relationships with fruit growers. Black said he would often give Thompson fruit from the farm to taste and evaluate. "He described it in adjectives I never knew existed," he recalled.
For many years, he returned every growing season to the orchards around Wenatchee. Heinicke met with Thompson during his visits and kept in touch with his former professor until his death.
Thompson is survived by his wife and their four children.