David W. Robinson, Animal Science: Davis


David Robinson was a remarkably talented teacher, scientist, administrator, and internationalist. He was also a superb athlete and gifted artist. His death at the age of 49 represented a tragic loss to his family, friends, University, and the international community.

Born in Leeds, England, to missionary parents, he lived most of his first nine years in Morocco and Spain. The early exposure to other cultures no doubt contributed to his lifelong interest in travel and international work, and to his exceptional sensitivity to the needs and concerns of people of different cultures. Following the early years in Morocco and Spain, David attended school in Yorkshire and grammar school in Swansea, Wales, where his future wife Dorothy was also a student.

His formal university training was all at the University of Nottingham, where he took bachelor of science degrees with honors in physiology and biochemistry in 1959 and a doctorate in nutrition in 1962. During his doctorate program he obtained a traveling scholarship to visit research institutions in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and France. Following completion of his doctorate he spent three years each as a lecturer in animal nutrition at the University of Liverpool and as a research scientist with Commonwealth and Scientific Industrial Research Organization in Australia, before joining the Department of Animal Science at Davis in 1968.

David's research record documents his skill in use of new techniques and his exceptional productivity. His early work at Nottingham and Liverpool focused on protein and amino acid nutrition of pigs, a field in which he became a widely recognized authority. On moving to Australia, where much of his assignment with CSIRO was spent in the Kimberley “outback,” his work of necessity shifted to study of the physiology of nutritional depletion and repletion of ruminants in the semi-arid tropics, although with a continuing focus on protein nutrition. At Davis his research involved both ruminants and non-ruminants, with a major emphasis on factors controlling food intake. Much of this work involved hypothalamic manipulations

and measurements of DNA and RNA which at the time were relatively new techniques in livestock research. In the six years at Davis before he moved full time into international work and administration, he supervised five doctorate and ten master of science students, and published more than 30 papers.

As distinguished as was his record in research, he is probably best remembered from these years for his teaching. His thorough knowledge of subject matter, combined with exceptional organization and great story-telling ability, made Nutrition 110 an extremely popular course, in spite of its being a heavy (five- unit) requirement for many students in the biological sciences. He taught non-ruminant nutrition with equal distinction, and was a popular guest lecturer in several other department and campus courses.

A three-month consultancy for CSIRO in Indonesia in 1972 restimulated his interest in international work, and in 1974 he took a leave of absence from UC to serve as Research Director of CSIRO's new Livestock Research Centre at Ciawi in West Java. (It was rumored that the impression he had made in Indonesia in 1972 led to insistence by the host country that Dave Robinson must be recruited if CSIRO's plans to build the center were to be realized.) As research director he did an outstanding job of recruiting students for training in Australia and of recruiting scientists to launch the center. He also pushed hard for development of a research program which related to local production conditions and involved outreach to farmers. This philosophy was not popular with the CSIRO administration involved with the center at that time, and as a result Dave was persuaded by UC to return to Davis in 1976. He served as associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for the next two years, and in 1978 he was recruited as the first program director of the Small Ruminant Program, the first of the Collaborative Research Support Programs authorized by Congress under Title XII of the 1975 Famine Prevention and Freedom from Hunger Act.

The SR-CRSP provided Robinson an opportunity to develop a new kind of international program in agriculture. He responded to this challenge with enthusiasm, insight, and tremendous energy. Programs were developed in five countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, and Peru) which focus on local and regional problems, on training and local institution building, and above all on a collaborative mode of research. This was a tremendously complex task, with scientists in eight disciplines from more than a dozen U.S. universities, the United States Agency for International Development as the funding agency, and the five overseas worksites. The mechanisms worked out under his leadership provide a model for effective collaborative aid to developing countries which is not only far less expensive

than most traditional modes, but offers much higher probability of continuation of the work by local scientists when U.S. participation ends. His inclusion of participating country scientists in high levels of decision making in the program was an especially bold and productive innovation.

David's concern for the people with whom he worked was particularly evident in his years as director of the Small Ruminant Program, and extended to people at every one of the overseas worksites. He worked very long hours himself, and from time to time drew those around him into doing the same. On occasion, after a particularly pressing task had been completed, he would declare it to be the “Queen's Birthday,” and thus a holiday for his staff. During a couple of especially gruelling years, the queen aged rapidly.

No description of David Robinson's life would be complete without mention of his accomplishments as an athlete and an artist. He was captain of rugby, cricket and soccer teams at boarding school, played rugby for the British Universities Touring Side (national all star team) and was a record-holder in the half mile. He continued to play rugby for many years, and was still scoring spectacular “tries” against strong competition in his late thirties. Repeated separations of a shoulder limited his playing in later years, and he had to content himself with coaching rugby, one of the sports in which all three of his sons excelled. David was also an enthusiastic mountain climber, and this activity, combined with his skill as a photographer, produced some spectacular pictures.

In art, Dave's sketches of the Yorkshire countryside he loved so well were gifts treasured by his friends, and beautiful charcoal drawings and paintings of people and places around the world were a special feature of the Robinson home. His colleagues also learned that, if a meeting promised to be particularly long and dull, it was wise to sit next to Dave. This had two advantages: first, one was less likely to be the subject of a caricature, and secondly, one got to see his representations of other colleagues.

In spite of all his abilities and accomplishments and the affection and high regard in which he was held by so many people, David was subject to periods of severe self-doubt and depression from time to time throughout his life. It is another measure of the very special person he was that, until the last few months of his life, he remained highly productive in his work through such periods, and often only those closest to him knew of the stresses under which he worked.

David Robinson was a person with deep concern for people throughout the world, and for the role the University might play in contributing to their well being. His own words, from an address to the U.S. House Select Committee on Hunger in 1984, best express his views:


“This University has a mandate. It is a mandate to seek the seek the truth, to search for new knowledge, and to make the truth and knowledge available to all the family of mankind. We hope to train a cadre of people who not only understand the problems of hunger and poverty but who have the sensitivity and courage to resolve them.”

G.E. Bradford D.L. Brown W.C. Weir