Rosario Provvidenti, authority on vegetable diseases, dies at 97

Rosario Provvidenti, Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor Emeritus of plant pathology, died on Feb. 1 in Geneva, New York. He was 97.

Rosario Provvidenti

Considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on viral diseases of vegetables, Provvidenti was a leader in the identification and characterization of emerging and regulated plant viruses. He also pioneered the use of genetic approaches for managing these diseases.

“Rosie was an astute observer and an outstanding scientist who gained the utmost respect from many,” said Marc Fuchs, professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology.

Born in 1921 in Gela, Sicily, Provvidenti completed a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science at the University of Catania in 1942 and a doctorate in microbiology at the University of Palermo in 1947. He was an assistant professor of plant pathology at the Agricultural Technical Institute in Siracusa, Italy, 1947-50, and a plant pathologist at the Polytron Corporation in White Plains, New York, 1950-54.

He joined Cornell as a research associate at the then-New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva in 1954. He had the rare distinction of being promoted from a non-professorial position to professor of plant pathology in 1984, before being named a Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of plant pathology in 1987. He retired in 1991.

During his career, he made key contributions to exploring, evaluating, preserving and maintaining plant genetic resources. He helped to make these resources available to researchers, geneticists and breeders at public and private institutions worldwide.

He also collaborated to develop virus-resistant cultivars of bean, gourd, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, pea, squash, spinach, tomato and other crops. Provvidenti traveled widely as a lecturer and consultant to such countries as Italy, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and China.

“He will be commemorated for his passion for plant pathology, dedication to the success of young scientists, leadership in interdisciplinary research, being the pride of Cornell AgriTech, and more importantly, his friendship, generosity in helping others, as well as his beautiful and genuine smile,” Fuchs said.

He was honored with an award of merit from the Northeastern Division of the American Phytopathological Society in 1985 and was named a fellow of the American Phytopathological Society in 1986. He was an author or co-author of more than 200 publications.

He was pre-deceased by his wife, Margaret, and is survived by their two children and six grandchildren.

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Lindsey Knewstub