Kindness may be Charley Hess’ greatest gift of all
Friends and colleagues of Dean Emeritus Charley Hess have been flooded with fond memories since he passed away due to congestive heart failure on April 13. We mourn his loss and celebrate his boundless energy, incredible work ethic and passion for agriculture, innovation and life.
Charley accomplished so much for our college and the people we serve. More than 20 years ago, he spearheaded the Student Farm, a place where students still sustainably grow crops and put their classroom learning into action. He was instrumental in helping to develop Integrated Pest Management in California to give farmers an array of tools for dealing with weeds, insects, diseases and other pests. And he launched the UC Davis Biotechnology Program to incorporate advanced scientific technology into our understanding and application of productive, profitable and sustainable agriculture.
Charley’s achievements go on and on, as you can read in his campus obituary on our college website. But beyond all his contributions, Charley was first and foremost a kind and decent man. Even 25 years after his “retirement” in 1994, Charley was always eager to support our students and the institution he so loved. Charley would ask, “How can I help?” And he meant it.
Charley Hess was dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES) when I was a graduate student here from 1978 to 1984 working on advanced degrees in plant pathology. I had a front-row seat to how a dean can impact teaching, research and outreach to improve agriculture, the environment and human health.
On January 27, 2014, I became CA&ES dean. Like all new employees, I was excited and even a little nervous on my first day. I was lucky: My first meeting was with Charley Hess. I walked into the room and there was Charley with his big smile and his kind spirit, able and willing to lend his support.
Charley loved CA&ES Commencement. He attended every year, even as his health began to fail. For nearly two decades, two students each year receive the Charles Hess Community Service Award for excellence in service to others in need. Each year, Charley helped select the recipients and met with the students to learn more about their activities and goals. Last June, he needed help to reach the stage—his son John escorted him—but his smile was as wide and bright as ever as he presented graduates his namesake award.
Charley believed in academia and the promise students provide. He loved visiting the Student Farm and watching the wonder in young people’s eyes as they discovered the joy of cultivation and growth. And they, in turn, basked in the warmth of Charley’s smile.
Charley Hess’ legacy will extend around the world in the countless colleagues and students he mentored and inspired over the years. And his legacy will live forever here at home in the indelible memory of Charley’s grace.