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International Society for Horticultural Science

DAVID ROBINSON (1928 - 2004) 

[Jim Kelly with the assistance of Geoff Dixon and Michael J. Hennerty, Chronica Horticulturae, Volume 44 - Number 2 - 2004]

A great oak toppled in late March when David Willis Robinson died. The relative suddenness of his passing was a surprise to his family, many friends and colleagues. Charged with a zest for life, David somehow seemed destined to maintain his busy schedule for many years to come. One of the finest horticulturists of his era, his reputation as an inspiring influence was widely recognised. 

The core of his career was spent as research director at the National Horticultural Research Centre, Kinsealy, Dublin. Mixing the practical with the theoretical, David stewarded an energetic and progressive research programme in the many facets of horticulture at Kinsealy and its sister top and soft fruit stations in Ballygagin and Clonroche, over many years. With great personal skills, he initiated new programmes and consolidated already established horticultural activities at these Centres during a period when the acquisition of essential funding for horticultural research was an ongoing struggle. David participated as an external examiner in all major universities, teaching horticulture in the UK and the Republic winning the respect of students for his knowledge and fairness. 

Always reasonable, David was a formidable and logical debater. His questioning mind often laid bare accepted myth and consequently his progress in the field of weed control, his lifelong study, quickly gained international recognition. He was influential in transforming the approach to weed control in the commercial production of top fruit and soft fruit, not to mention his mastery in the sequential use of chemicals for the control of weeds in nursery stock and general ornamental plantations. 

Appointments, honours and awards flowed in his direction. His early horticultural work, after very successful studies at Reading and Cornell Universities, found him in an Advisory capacity in South Down. A few years later, he was appointed as a research worker at the Horticultural Centre, Loughall, where much of his pioneering efforts in weed control were developed. In this time he gained a PhD in Weed Science at Queen’s University, Belfast . After a dozen years here, during which time a burgeoning reputation was gaining momentum, he was appointed to his position at Kinsealy. Apart from his administrative and research programme duties, he found time to advise several overseas countries on the establishment of horticultural programmes during missions funded by the FAO and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. His great strength of logic, unbridled enthusiasm and skill in implementing agreed procedures was a great boon to horticultural personnel in the developing countries where he was advising. Since his retirement in 1988, he became well established as a broadcaster and branched out into hosting long-haul garden tours. Sojourns of six week intervals between 1993 to 1998 were spent at the Humboldt University in Berlin, where David lectured whilst developing a course in urban horticulture. 

David joined the ISHS as a member in 1966. He was soon appointed Council member and became involved as Vice Chairman of the Commission Plant Substrates, Vice Chairman of the Commission Urban Horticulture to become Chairman of this group later on. He was one of the earliest to recognise the urban dimensions of horticulture as compared with its more traditional role in rural society. He was a key player in ISHS helping to steer it through troubled times and into the vigorous and robust organisation of today. David’s internationalist approach was typified by the list of 60 countries with which he worked in an UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) programme. He received the Gold Veitch Memorial Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society, was made Fellow of the ASHS, and Honorary Member of the ISHS in recognition of his achievements in horticultural science and education. In addition he became a Fellow of countless other horticultural societies and organizations. 

These honours, prestigious in their own right, can often obscure facets of the recipient which are just as worthy of elucidation. Despite all of the honours conferred upon him, David remained an essentially modest man. He had no difficulty finding time to help and encourage students and colleagues - in fact anyone seeking advice (especially horticultural advice!). 

The loss of David will be keenly felt by his wife Muriel and daughter Karen, son Ivan and their children. 

This page was last updated on 27-Jul-2023 .