Tributes poured in this week from across the nation for agricultural icon Richard Rominger, who died of a heart attack Sunday near his home in Winters. Rominger, a UC Davis supporter and alum, was a fourth-generation farmer who played pivotal roles in local, state and national agriculture.
Rominger, 93, collapsed at a restaurant as he was arranging to buy meals to donate to families in need, something he did each week.
“Rich was a true public servant and an inspiration to us all,” said Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, where Rominger served as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council. “Rich was a man of integrity and you could always count on him for thoughtful advice. It’s impossible to overstate Rich’s lasting contributions to public service and to agriculture.”
Rominger was deputy secretary of agriculture during the Clinton administration and former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. He served as an advisor for the UC Davis chancellor’s office, as well as for the college and the UC Agricultural Sustainability Institute. He served two years on the University of California Board of Regents and was a member of the UC Davis Foundation Board. In 2016, Rich and his wife, Evelyne, received the UC Davis Medal, the university’s highest honor.
“Rich Rominger gave his time to all who crossed his path,” longtime Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor recalled in a Facebook post. “He is our finest, and I am better for having known him. Rich typified the best values of Yolo and took those values to the nation and to the world.”
During his time with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1993 to 2001, he helped produce seminal studies on the effects of climate change and establish the Tahoe Summit, while also addressing droughts, supporting land conservation, managing invasive species and protecting America’s forests. As director of the state Department of Food and Agriculture from 1977 to 1982, he dealt with drought, water wars and labor shortages, among other issues.
Above all, Rominger recognized the needs of farmers, according to his friend and colleague, Rep. John Garamendi, whose 3rd District includes most of Yolo County.
“Richard was always the bulwark of support for the American family farmer,” Garamendi reported to the Daily Democrat newspaper in Woodland. “He knew the challenges facing farm families and he knew how to use government to improve their lot.”
Rominger was a pioneer in both conventional and organic farming. With deep ties to UC Davis, the Rominger family welcomes student and faculty researchers to their 6,000-acre farm to further the science of sustainable food production.
Rominger was chairman of the board of the American Farm Trust and was honored by the California Farm Bureau Federation for his lifelong commitment to the agriculture community.
Beyond all the accolades, friends say they will remember Rominger most for his authenticity and warm heart.
“I have called Rich’s cellphone hundreds of times seeking advice and counsel,” Garamendi recalled. “And I have always come away with a gem of wisdom, a better solution to the problem, encouragement and a special gift of friendship. I’ll keep Rich’s number. It will encourage me to stay true to the lessons he taught me.”
Dean Dillard, too, said she will be forever grateful for Rominger’s counsel.
“Rich leaves a legacy of integrity and public service,” Dillard said. “He will have a lasting impact on our college and on agriculture throughout the world.”