Ernie Nunn, former IRRI Director of Operations —the “Gentle Bear”—passes away

 Alaric Santiaguel   |  

Ernest Wesley Nunn passed away on 28 September 2015, just a few weeks short of his 83rd birthday, in LaFayette, Alabama.

A native of Rome, Georgia, USA, Dr. Nunn spent 12 years working for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in various capacities, the longest as Director of Operations at headquarters (1989-95). During this period, “Ernie”, as he was known by all, oversaw the largest renovation of IRRI’s facilities since its creation in 1960.

He also represented IRRI as part of the All-India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project (1971-73) and as a research development specialist in Cambodia for IRRI’s then Training and Technology Transfer Department (1988). In 1996, he was a consultant for IRRI’s Central Research Farm. In 1997, he was a consultant in Cambodia for IRRI’s International Programs and Management Office.

After 13 years in India, including his time representing IRRI, the agricultural engineer continued work with international crop research stations and lived in Zimbabwe and Indonesia before rejoining IRRI in 1988.

 One of Ernie’s greatest achievements was overseeing the design and construction of the sprawling campus of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Patancheru, Telangana, India. Ernie was fond of telling stories of the discovery of ancient Hindu idols during routine road building operations on the site in 1973. He joined an ecstatic crew of workers who retrieved an enormous 5-ton, 1,000-year-old statue of Ganesha, one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu Pantheon. It was seen as the greatest possible blessing of the new institute. That statue still graces the ICRISAT campus and is an inspiration to all who pass it.

Ernie was preceded in death earlier this year (3 January) by his wife of 60 years, Edna Eugenia ‘Jean’ Spence NunnHe is survived by son Ronald W. Nunn, daughter Anne E. Nunn Bredeck, two brothers, and four grandchildren. Ernie is a first cousin of Sam Nunn who served for 24 years as a United States Senator from Georgia (1972-97).

Upon retirement, Ernie and Jean returned to her home in LaFayette, Alabama. One of their major undertakings was the grafting of pecan trees, harvesting, cracking, and shelling. In 2014, they co-authored a book, Our Families, Farms and Stories: From Alabama to India, International Agricultural Research and Back Home.

Ernie was admired and loved by all he came in contact with. His gentle demeanor and very broad technical skill set helped make him the excellent leader he became.

In lieu of flowers, friends and colleagues may make donations to the Five Points Fire Stations (c/o Jeff Williams, 1341 County Road 224, Lafayette, AL 36862) or to the Lebanon Presbyterian Trust Fund, (c/o Linda Hodge, P.O. Box 63, Five Points, AL 36855).

Ernie was a founding patron of the Asia Rice Foundation USA (ARFUSA). Memorial donations in his honor can be made to ARFUSA by sending a check to Asia Rice Foundation USA, Inc., P.O. Box 347, Hartland, VT 05048.

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