Charles E. Hess, Ph.D.

Charles Hess

Position Title
(In Memoriam) Dean Emeritus, College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
Department Chair (2007-2009)


Charles E. “Charley” Hess, a UC Davis Medal recipient and dean emeritus of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences who never took the word “retirement” seriously, died Saturday (April 13) of congestive heart failure at the age of 87.

Saturday was Picnic Day, the biggest celebration of the year at the institution he loved. Two years ago he rode in the Picnic Day Parade as outstanding retiree of the year, an honor bestowed on him by his fellow retirees who took seriously and appreciated his continued service to the campus community.

He had been under Yolo Hospice care at his Davis home, where he died surrounded by family, said his wife, Eva.

Helene Dillard, who studied for her advanced degrees in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, or CA&ES, during Hess’ time as dean, is now the dean herself — fully cognizant of Hess’ role in the college’s status as a global leader in agriculture.

“We would not be where we are today without Charley’s vision and leadership,” said Dillard, a plant pathologist who was appointed dean in January 2014 a few months before Hess received the UC Davis Medal, the campus’s highest honor. “Charley was a wonderful colleague, an inspirational teacher, a tremendous mentor and a dear friend to our college and the people we serve.”

Hess was the dean when Anita Oberbauer received her appointment to the animal science faculty. “He was a great and kind man,” said Professor Oberbauer, who recently received the UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement.

Hess earned a Bachelor of Science degree in plant science at Rutgers University, a Master of Science degree in horticulture and plant pathology at Cornell, and a Ph.D. in horticulture, plant physiology and plant pathology, also at Cornell. He joined the Purdue faculty in 1958, then returned to Rutgers in 1966 as chair of the Department of Horticulture and Forestry. He advanced to acting dean of Rutgers’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 1971 and two years later became the founding dean of Rutgers’ Cook College (today known as the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences).

He became the dean at UC Davis in 1975 and held the post until 1989. His faculty appointment was in the Department of Environmental Horticulture (now part of the Department of Plant Sciences).

He was a natural in the plant world, born Dec. 20, 1931, in New Jersey, into a family with a nursery business in Wayne. He could have joined the business after college, but the science bug bit him. Still, as an academic and administrator, he developed strong relationships in agriculture at all levels, from small businesses like his family’s, to industry giants — and, of course, with student farmers, too, having been an enthusiastic supporter of the UC Davis Student Farm since its inception in 1977 in his second year as CA&ES dean.

The farm eventually became part of the Sustainable Agriculture Research Education Program that was established later during his tenure as dean. He also participated in the development and funding of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program and the UC Davis Biotechnology Program, and he facilitated the move of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Human Nutrition Center from San Francisco to UC Davis.

He stepped down as dean, after 14 years, to accept an appointment by President George H.W. Bush to be the assistant secretary for science and education in the USDA, serving from 1989 to 1991. Prior to that, Hess had two presidential appointments to the National Science Board, the governing board of the National Science Foundation.

He was one of the principle architects of the National Research Initiative, which evolved into the competitive grants program of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Yolo County farmer Richard Rominger ’49, former deputy secretary at the USDA and director of the state Department of Food and Agriculture, said: "Charley was a much loved and respected leader at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and at UC Davis, recognized for his accomplishments and contributions to the greater world of agriculture, education and science.”

Back on campus, he took an appointment as UC Davis’ first director of international programs in 1992. He officially “retired” in 1994 but kept right on working in international programs until 1998. He would go on to serve as special assistant to the provost and chancellor, 2003-04; and subsequently held temporary positions as chair of the Department of Nutrition and vice chancellor of research.

He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Horticultural Science, and had been inducted into the society’s Horticulture Hall of Fame. The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the USDA also had honored him for distinguished service.

He was a strong advocate for retirees’ welfare and had served as team leader for retiree health on UC’s Post-Employment Benefits Task Force.

As a vice chancellor, John Meyer worked closely with Hess on retiree issues. “Charley was the last of a special class of leaders — a leader with not only an amazing intellect but a talent for motivating people through kindness,” said Meyer, who is president of the UC Davis Retirees Association. “He cared deeply about the entire UC community and was so affirming to everyone.”

Hess was a former president of the UC Davis Emeriti Association and former chair of the Council of UC Emeriti Associations, but his advocacy extended to staff, too. He was the first chair of the advisory committee that led to the creation of the UC Davis Retiree Center and was the first recipient of the Charles H. Hess Founders Award in 2016, given by the Emeriti and Retirees associations.

For nearly two decades, he participated in the selection of two students per year to receive the Charles Hess Community Service Awards at CA&ES commencement. He eagerly met with the recipients every year, always very interested to hear of their post-graduation plans and to learn more about their activities and goals. Then he would attend commencement to present the awards, even last year when he needed an escort from his son John to walk to the stage.

He continued to serve the university and attend other events, like the CA&ES College Celebration last fall. And when he could no longer make the trip to campus, he turned his home into a UC Davis outpost, said his wife. Most recently, he hosted fellow faculty members who served with him on a committee to write the Academic Senate’s official “in memoriam” for Elmer W. Learn, professor of agricultural economics and executive vice chancellor emeritus.

Hess is survived by his wife of 38 years, Eva, and their son, Peter Hess, and four children from his earlier marriage to Marie C. Lilliedoll: Mary Foster (and husband Mike Foster), Carol Hess Allan, Nancy Hess (and husband Garry Buchko) and John Hess. Other survivors include daughter-in-law Akiko Ogura; and five grandchildren, Julie (Foster) Mecca, Brian Foster, Alex Buchko, Jules Buchko and Emma Hess.

By Dave Jones on May 3, 2019.  Other contributors to this report: Diane Nelson, senior writer in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; Maril Stratton, associate chancellor emerita; and Pat Bailey, retired senior public information representative.

  • B.Sci., Plant Science, Rutgers University
  • M.Sci., Horticulture and Plant Pathology, Cornell University
  • Ph.D., Horticulture, Plant Physiology and Plant Pathology, Cornell University
  • U.C. Management Institute, UC Davis Senior Executive Education Program, Federal Executive Institute
Research Interests

Dr. Hess was the Chair of the UC Davis Nutrition Department from 2007 to 2009. He also serverd as Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences from 1975 to 1989. In 1989 he was appointed by the President to be the Assistant Secretary of Science and Education in the USDA. He also had two presidential appointments to the National Science Board, the governing board of the National Science Foundation. Upon his return to campus in 1991, he served as the Director of International Programs and has served as a special assistant to the Provost and Chancellor.

  • Alpha Zeta
  • Gamma Sigma Delta
  • Phi Beta Kappa
  • Phi Kappa Phi
  • Sigma Xi
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Fellow, American Society for Horticultural Science
  • Honorary Doctoral Degree, Purdue University
Professional Experience
  • University of California, Davis. Chair, Department of Nutrition, 2007-present.
  • University of California, Davis. Special Assistant to the Chancellor, 2003-2004.
  • University of California, Davis. Special Assistant to the Provost. July 1, 1994-June 30, 2003.
  • University of California, Davis. Director of International Programs. April 2, 1992-1998.
  • University of California, Davis. Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Horticulture (Plant Science). July 1, 1994-present.
  • Vice Chair, Council of University of California Emeriti Associations (CUCEA). 2007-present.
  • Chair, UC Davis Retiree Center Advisory Committee, 2005-2007.
  • Member, Executive Committee of the UCD Emeriti Association and Chair of the Program Committee, 2000-2007, Vice President, 2002-2004, President, 2004-2006.
  • Member, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Executive Committee, 1999-2002. Chair, 2001.
  • University of California, Davis. Professor, Department of Environmental Horticulture. October 1, 1991-June 30, 1994.
  • Assistant Secretary for Science and Education, U. S. Department of Agriculture. May 22, 1989-September 30, 1991.
  • University of California, Davis. Dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Associate Director, California Agricultural Experiment Station. July 1975-May, 1989.
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Dean, Cook College and Director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. July 1972-June 1975.
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Acting Dean, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and Director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. July 1971-July 1972.
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Associate Dean, College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and Director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. January 1971-July 1971.
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Horticulture and Forestry. September 1966-January 1971.
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. Department of Horticulture. December 1958-August 1966.
    • Assistant Professor, 1958
    • Associate Professor, 1962
    • Professor, 1965
  • U. S. Army Chemical Corps, Frederick, Maryland. First Lieutenant. November 1956-November 1958. Served at the U. S. Army Biological Laboratories and as project leader in the Chemical Section of the Crops Division.
Professional Society Activities
  • President, American Society for Horticultural Science, 1972. Chair of Board of Directors, 1974.
  • Editor, International Plant Propagators Society, 1962-1970; President of the Eastern Region, 1969-1970, International President, 1973.
  • Chair, Section O (Agriculture) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989-1990.
State Activities
  • Appointed by Governor Deukmejian to two successive four-year terms on the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, 1984-1992.
International Activities
  • Member of the Board of Trustees of the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC), Taiwan, Republic of China, 1993-1996.
  • Appointed Honorary Member of the Faculty of Agricultural University of Hebei, Baoding, Hebei, People´s Republic of China, September 1993.
  • Reviewed the National Agricultural Genetic Engineering Laboratory, United Nations Development Program, Cairo, Egypt, March 1993.
  • Review of the Egyptian Horticultural Research Institute, National Agricultural Research Project, Cairo Egypt, November 3-11, 1992.
  • Member of the Board of Trustees, International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), The Hague, Netherlands, 1992-1998; Board Chairman, 1995-1996.
  • Member of the Board of Directors, Institute of International Development and Education in Agriculture and Life Sciences (IDEALS), 1989-present.
  • Co-chaired the U.S./European Community Task Force on Biotechnology Research. 1990-1991.
  • Participant in the High Technology Group of the European Economic Community discussion on applications and regulation of biotechnology, Brussels, Belgium, December 1989.
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences Team to evaluate scientific exchanges with Hungary, Budapest, Hungary, 1988.
  • Co-chaired conference in Guadalajara, Mexico to foster collaborative research between the University of California and the National Institute for Agricultural and Forestry Research (INIFAP), 1988.
  • Chaired a National Academy of Science workshop on Environmental Research and Agricultural Development, Ceske Budejovice, Czechoslovakia, 1987.
  • Led a World Bank and Chinese Ministry of Agriculture team to evaluate the effectiveness of World Bank Loans on upgrading Chinese Agricultural Education and Research. A report "Agricultural Education in China: Past Accomplishments - Future Directions" was issued in 1985.
  • Member of the Joint Committee on Agricultural and Research Development (JCARD) of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD), a division of the Agency for International Development (AID), Department of State, 1983-1986.
  • Member of ISEC, the International Science and Education Council, which links the international programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, 1980-1983.
  • Leader of U.S. Agricultural Education Team to China to establish linkages between the seven key Chinese Agricultural Colleges and U.S. Land Grant Colleges, 1980.
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the University of California-Egypt Program, a $15 million AID project to facilitate agricultural policy development and enhance food production and nutrition in the Middle East, 1976-1981.
  • Consultant to the Ministry of Education, Republic of Sudan, 1976.
  • Consultant to the Agency for International Development to teach an intensive course in plant physiology to graduate students at the Rural University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1965.
National Activities
  • Chair, USAID/National Academies Review Panel for the Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperative Program, 2006-present.
  • Consultant to the National Academies, National Research Council’s Committee on Science and Technology in Foreign Assistance, 2004-2005. Participated in a site visit to Bangladesh.
  • Panel member, National Academy of Public Administration Study of the Organization and Management of the National Science Foundation, including the National Science Board, the research portfolio, the promotion of interdisciplinary and innovative research, and the use of rotators in key positions in NSF. 2003-2004.
  • Board Reviewer, National Research Council, Division on Earth and Life Studies (DELS) of the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Institute for Laboratory Animals Research, 2001-2002.
  • Consultant, Iowa State University in the search for a Dean of Agriculture, 2001.
  • Board Member, by Presidential appointment, to the National Science Board (National Science Foundation), 1982-1988 and 1992-1998. Member of the Executive Committee, 1983-1988 and 1995-1998, Vice Chairman of the Board, 1984-1988; Member, Task Force on Polar Issues, 1994-1998; Chair, Audit and Oversight Committee, 1996-1998.
  • Member, Board of Directors, Petoseed Company, 1992-1996.
  • Member, Biotechnology Science Advisory Committee, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1991-1994.
  • Trustee, BIOSIS (Bioscience Information Service), 1988-1989.
  • Co-Chair, appointed by Secretary of Agriculture Richard Lyng, of the Joint Council on Food and Agricultural Sciences, 1987-1989.
  • Advisory Board Member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Publication, Issues in Science and Technology, 1987-1993.
  • Member, National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Safety Review Panel, 1987-1988. Co-Author, Report of the U.S. Antarctic Program External Panel, 1997.
  • Chair, National Research Council committee to develop a National Strategy for Biotechnology in Agriculture. The report, Agricultural Biotechnology - Strategies for National Competitiveness, was issued in May 1987.
  • Member, Committee on Biotechnology, Division of Agriculture, National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, 1982-1990.
  • Chair, National Germ Plasm Resources Board, 1989-1991.
  • Co-Chair, Interagency Committee on Human Nutrition Research, 1989-1991.
  • Consultant, U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, 1977-1979.
Community Service
  • Member, University Club Board of Directors, 1996-present; President 1997-1999.
  • Member, Davis Science Center Board of Trustees, 1991-1994. Davis Science Center Regional Council, 1986-1989.
  • Member of Deans' Council of the California Agricultural Leadership Program, 1975-1989. Chair of Deans´ Council, 1988.
  • Member, West Lafayette School Board, 1963-1968. Appointed in 1963, elected to a four-year term in 1964, Secretary, 1963-1964, President, 1964-1965.
  • Director, Lafayette Regional Science Fair, 1962-1964.
  • Cook College, Rutgers University – The State University of New Jersey and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station – Lifetime Recognition for Distinguished Leadership, 2006.
  • Gamma Sigma Delta – "Distinguished Achievement in Agriculture Award," 2004.
  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of California, Davis, "Award of Distinction," 1994.
  • The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, Division of Agriculture, Recognition of Distinguished Leadership in Promoting Excellence in U.S. Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching. 1991
  • USDA Graduate School. Award for Outstanding Leadership as Board Chairman, 1989-1991.
  • The Fraternity of Alpha Zeta. Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture, 1991.
  • USDA Award for Distinguished Service, 1988.
  • Outstanding Educator of the Year, California Association of Nurserymen, 1986.
  • George Hammell Cook - Distinguished Service Award, Cook-CAES Alumni Association of Rutgers University, 1985.
  • Communicator of the Year, Town and Gown Toastmasters, Davis, California, 1984.
  • George H. Cook Memorial Award from the Cook College Board of Managers in recognition of the development of Cook College and leadership as Dean and Director, 1975.
  • Thomas A. Weston Trophy from the New York Florists´ Club, 1971.
  • Jackson Dawson Memorial Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, 1971.
  • Kenneth Post Award in 1967 and 1969 for research papers published in the Proceedings of the American Society for Horticultural Science.
  • Norman J. Colman Award from the American Association of Nurserymen, 1967.
  • International Plant Propagators Society Award of Merit, 1963.
  • Selected as one of the five "Most Popular Professors" by the students of Purdue University, 1960.