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Renowned Plant Scientist George McNew Dead at 90

LAS CRUCES -- George L. McNew, distinguished alumnus and distinguished adjunct professor of plant pathology at New Mexico State University, died Oct. 30 in Las Cruces. He was 90.


McNew, who has a residence hall at NMSU named in his honor, was an acclaimed scholar who directed the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, then located in Yonkers, N.Y., for 25 years.

Son of famed southern New Mexico rancher Bill McNew, he was valedictorian of both his 1926 class at Alamogordo High School and his 1930 class at New Mexico A & M (now NMSU), where he earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture with a major in biological sciences. He earned master's and doctoral degrees in plant pathology from Iowa State University in 1931 and 1935, respectively.

"I would be hard pressed to think of a more distinguished graduate of NMSU than George McNew," said John Owens, NMSU interim executive vice president. "George was an outstanding scholar, even while he was a true child of the wild New Mexico Territory."

McNew published 155 scientific articles and books in a career that took him to Rockefeller University; Cornell University; Iowa State University, where he was head of the botany department; U.S. Rubber Co.; the Boyce Thompson Institute; and NMSU. He came back to his native state in 1978 as a distinguished scientist and consultant to the dean of NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences . It was the first position of that kind offered at NMSU.

"Though he was an accomplished administrator, his legacy as a teacher is impressive, when you consider the list of his students who went on to their own distinguished careers," Owens said. "Deans, directors, vice presidents and fine researchers are all among his students."

McNew's own research focused on chemical processes responsible for disease response in plants. Much of that work was done at the Boyce Thompson Institute, one of the few private, independent laboratories of its kind.

In 1987, the Institute established a professorial chair at Cornell in McNew's honor. He received the distinguished alumnus award from Iowa State University in 1958. At NMSU, he received an honorary doctorate in 1954, had a residence hall on campus named for him in 1961, was named distinguished alumnus of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences in 1972, and was named Outstanding Centennial Alumnus in 1988.

McNew served on the boards of directors for many professional scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Phytopathological Society, American Institute of Biological Sciences and American Chemical Society's New York Section. He went on to serve as president of all those organizations except AAAS.

McNew's civic activities included a 1977-78 stint as governor of Rotary International's district 723, an area which included many portions of New York City.

McNew is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, of Las Cruces; and a nephew, Norman McNew, of Albuquerque.