On the cold, sunny, highland Mexican morning of 29 November 2011, nearly 80 persons gathered in the pine grove at El Batán to remember Chris Dowswell, former CIMMYT colleague and dear friend to many, who died on Saturday 19 November 2011 in his home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, as a result of health problems at the age of 64. In a moving ceremony presided by deputy director general for research and partnerships, Marianne Bänziger, participants shared recollections or heard messages from others not present but who had worked with or known Chris. What emerged was the complex picture of an amazing man at once modest but frankly righteous, witty and warm, generous and dedicated, and in whom—in the words of friend and colleague Masaaki Miyamota, executive director of the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) where Chris worked since 1991—“…the professional and the human being meshed as one.”
Referring to Chris’ long association with Dr. Norman Borlaug as aide-de- camp and communications assistant, in a message Jeanie Borlaug Laube and Ronnie Coffman, chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, said “…the two men brought out the best in each other as far as what they were most passionate about, which was the fight against hunger and poverty.”
Those attending included Chris’ widow Silvia Castillo de Dowswell and her family, many of Chris’ Mexican friends, SAA representatives, and former CIMMYT staff. CIMMYT administrative assistant Caritina Venado recalled the very human side of Chris. “He always took the time to ask who you were, how your family was, and if you needed any help.” Juliana Rwelamira, SAA Managing Director of the Sasakawa Africa Association, told how Chris had earned the honorific of “grandfather” because he paid for nannies to care for the children of young mothers so the women could take part in workshops and other activities.
The ceremony closed with the planting of a memorial tree for Chris. “Most appropriate that it’s a Pinus greggi pine,” said Bänziger. “It’s native to Mexico and, like Chris, it’s a bit short and portly and gives good shade, although Chris’ shadow was always brightened by his smile.”
A video of the memorial ceremony will soon be up on the CIMMYT YouTube channel, and further photos can be found on the CIMMYT Facebook page. Chris’ family in the USA has set up a permanent memorial website for tributes, stories, remembrances, pictures, etc. that can be viewed and added to at any time.