Deborah Golino, Former Director of Foundation Plant Services, Dies

Plant Pathologist Transformed Unit into Renowned Source of Clean Plants

Deborah Golino
Deborah Golino

Deborah Golino, renowned plant pathologist, avid gardener and retired director of Foundation Plant Services, or FPS, at University of California, Davis, died Dec. 23.

Golino was a powerhouse, a kind friend and mentor who had a knack for seeing the big picture and making her vision happen. She was approachable yet formidable, known for her epic parties and willingness to help others.

She was 70 and will be dearly missed.

“She was not only a colleague, she was a good friend and a supporter,” said Maher Al Rwahnih, the current FPS director who worked closely with her for nearly 20 years. “I learned from her how to focus more on the big picture.”

Dedicated plant pathologist

Golino earned her degrees at University of California, Riverside, graduating with a Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1987. While earning her doctorate she studied insect-transmitted citrus diseases for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, or USDA-ARS.

Golino moved to Davis in 1987 working for the Crops Pathology and Genetics Research Unit for the USDA-ARS, which was co-located on campus.

She became a Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology and director of Foundation Plant Services in 1994. During her tenure, she expanded the unit from a small staff of less than 10 focusing mostly on grapevines and grapes into a nationally and internationally known source of virus tested, healthy roses, grapevines, strawberries, sweet potatoes and fruit and nut trees.

“She really took [Foundation Plant Services] to a world class level,” said Dave Rizzo, chair of the Department of Plant Pathology. “It’s very respected around the world for what they do and a lot of that was because of Deborah.”

Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said Golino was an outstanding plant pathologist. “She is highly regarded throughout the world for her work on plant pathogens and for her exceptional leadership of Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis,” Dillard said

At the time of Golino’s retirement in 2021, the unit had 45 employees who oversaw 100 acres of crops, which were screened and determined free of diseases for sale to nurseries, growers and other industry players.

Golino was a popular teacher and leader who never lost sight of the importance of crops and the needs of industry. “We know if you don’t have clean plants, you will have economic impacts from pathogens,” Al Rwahnih said.

She played a key role in the formation of the National Clean Plant Network and sat on the board of the National Grape Research Alliance, serving as an initial member of its Science Advisory Council.

Golino retired from UC Davis in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic and wasn’t able to have a retirement party. Last November, Rizzo held a small dinner party for department retirees, and she was there, laughing and sharing memories.

“We had a lot of fun and laughed,” Rizzo said. “It was a wonderful last memory to have with her.”

Golino is survived by her husband, Richard “Dick” Hoenisch; son Joshua Sullivan; daughter Laura Sullivan; grandchildren Frida and Felix; brothers George, Daniel, Jonathan and Richard Lawton; nephew Julian and nieces Athena, Amaya and Tessa Lawton.

The department is planning a celebration of her life in the spring.

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