Carolyn Moomaw, spouse of IRRI’s first agronomist and a scientist in her own right, passes away

  Gene Hettel   |  

Carolyn Joan (nee Regier, Moomaw, Richtman) Wilhelm, 89, of Albany, Oregon, USA, passed away on 17 October 2021 of complications from Primary Progressive Aphasia.

Carolyn and her then husband, Dr. James Curtis Moomaw (photo below) came to Los Baños, Philippines, in November 1961. With an infant son in tow, they were ready for a grand adventure at a new facility there called the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) where Jim would become the institute’s first agronomist through to 1969.

Dr. James Curtis Moomaw

Dr. James Curtis Moomaw

In 1963, Jim started IRRI’s Long-Term Continuous Cropping Experiment (in 2021 currently producing its 170th crop), which is the longest running intensively cultivated rice experiment in the world (usually three crops per year) that has provided important data on the effects of such a rice-cropping system. After 8 years working for IRRI at headquarters and Sri Lanka, Jim moved Carolyn and the family of four children by then to Nigeria where he established the first rice program at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

The Moomaws were then off to Taiwan where Jim served as the second director general of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (now the World Vegetable Center). Jim passed away prematurely at age 55 in 1983.

Visiting IRRI for the first time in 26 years back in December 2005, Carolyn fondly looked back at her family’s time in the Philippines in the first-ever IRRI Pioneer Interview.

“We [the spouses of the early IRRI international staff] were truly ‘rice widows’ in those days,” she said. “I think Bob Chandler, IRRI’s first director general, actually coined that term. And that’s what we called ourselves. Dr. Chandler was an empathetic man and recognized the plight of the wives, but IRRI scientists, often away from home for long periods, had a job to do and we wives appreciated and supported that.”

See a clip from the pioneer interview during which Carolyn talks about her effort to have speed bumps installed during the early days in IRRI staff housing to protect all the young children there at the time.

Armed with a Master’s Degree in Bacteriology and Public Health from Washington State University at Pullman (1956) and additional studies later in molecular biology at CW Post College and the State University of New York at Stony Brook in the early 1980s, Carolyn ultimately became the scientist she always wanted to be in her own right.

In 1982, she first worked at the world-famous Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories and then, in 1986, moved on to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Texas. As a technician at HHMI, she directed the protein sequencing facility. By the time of her retirement in 2001, she had contributed to numerous publications in peer reviewed journals and worked with a number of Nobel Laureates.

Carolyn is survived by her husband, Carl Wilhelm (in photo above with Carolyn during their 2005 visit to IRRI) of Albany, Oregon; sons, John F. Moomaw of Indianapolis, Indiana; Martin R. Moomaw of Dallas, Texas; Charles P. Moomaw of Bartlesville, Oklahoma; William A. Moomaw and granddaughters Joann Moomaw and Gina Moomaw of Corvallis, Oregon; sister, Pearlmarie Peters of Aurora, Colorado, and many cousins, nieces and nephews.

2 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Alice Flinn-Stilwell October 23, 2021 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Carolyn and Jim were both amazing human beings. We met them when we arrived at IITA in 1972. Without them those first few days and weeks would have been very difficult indeed, but they smoothed our settling in with seeming ease and we all continued to enjoy their company … it was a sad day when they left for AVRDC in Taiwan. Later I was lucky enough to meet up with Carolyn at several reunions either for IITA or IRRI and it was always wonderful to see her again and here how interestingly her life continued. She was an inspiration. Fond memories to all her family, Alice

  2. Dr.S.K. De Datta October 24, 2021 at 2:25 am - Reply

    Hi: Johny, Martin, Charlie and Billy:

    I was your Father’s Jim Moomaw’s First Graduate student at U.H. and Associate Agronomist at IRRI , Jim’s Deputy , from Jan 1964 thru 1969 until Jim left for Nigeria and I continued at IRRI thru June of 1991 and left for Virginia Tech. Last I saw your father JIM was in his Hospital Bed at Sloane Kittening in New York. He was in good spirit. Jim and your Mom Carloyn ( with whom I served on the Board Chair of ARFUSA Rice Foundation Board). My memories on Jim and Carolyn are of gratitude for their kindness and confidence in me to serve IRRI under his leadership. Rest is history.. Please accept my heartfelt condolense for the loss of your Mom, Carloyn who always had an infectious kind smile on her face, My wife Vijji is joining me in sending her condolence as well. Let her soul rest in peace. I hope and pray you four Moomaws will now continue to sustain and advance the good work your parents have done at IRRI, IITA, and at AVRDC. and your mom on the ARFUSA Board.

    Our best wishes and love for you four and your families and prayers for your late parents good souls.

    Dr. S.K. and Vijji De Datta, cell; 1-530-574-5894. Pricipal Sceintist, Agronomist and Head Department of IRRI, Program Leader Rainfed Lowland Rice Ecosystem. (1964-June 1991).

    Associate Vice President for International Affairs and the Director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development, Virginia Tech ( From June , 1991 thru November 2011). At present: Emeritus Professor of Agronomy , Virginia Tech.

    Home Address: 4388 El Camino Real, Unit #239. Los Altos, CA, 94022

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