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A pioneer passes: Bernice “Bernie” Hanson

We have received word that Mrs. Bernie Hanson, wife of Haldore Hanson, CIMMYT’s second director general, died on April 4, 2007 at the age of 91. She would have been 92 on Sunday, August 19th.

Hal and Bernie were important “pioneers” in CIMMYT’s history. Shortly after arriving in Mexico in 1971, and with no desire to undergo a daily commute to Mexico City, Bernie set out to find property near Texcoco to build a home. She found a series of eight terraces that had probably been farmed since before the arrival of the Spaniards in San Nicolás Tlaminca. They sat at the base of Tezcotzingo, on top of which the Texcoco king, Nezahualcóyotl, had built a summer place. It was love at first sight. With her powers of persuasion, Bernie then convinced Arq. Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, one of Mexico’s most accomplished architects, to design and build their dream home. The house completed in 1972, became Hal and Bernie’s home for the next two decades.

Even with the CIMMYT director general living in the Texcoco area, the lack of a bilingual school discouraged many international staff from relocating closer to El Batán. So Bernie founded the Columbia School and recruited a number of expatriate women whose spouses were associated with CIMMYT and Chapingo, to teach there.

Bernie also played an important economic development role in San Nicolás. She was instrumental in encouraging greenhouse flower cultivation and helped to create a microfinance organization to support the smallholder growers. She is remembered with great fondness by many.

After Haldore’s death in 1992 Bernie returned to their farm near Leesburg, Virginia. Before leaving Mexico, she gifted the San Nicolás property to CIMMYT (two houses and 4 ha). Her condition was that all revenue derived from the property be deposited in a special fund, called the Hanson Fund, to provide educational scholarships for national CIMMYT staff.

CIMMYT extends its condolences to the two Hanson children, Signe and Eric, and thanks them for the many contributions that their parents made to international agriculture and development, to CIMMYT and to the larger Texcoco community.