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John Woolston’s fourth retirement!

Staff and other members of the CIMMYT community gathered near the library entrance in El Batán on 22 April 2010 for a ceremony to bid fond farewell to volunteer and information specialist, John Woolston, who is retiring and returning to Canada on 24 April after 18 years at CIMMYT. The ceremony included the formal renaming of the library as the “John E. Woolston International Library,” in honor of Woolston’s many contributions to the center’s work and to the greater CIMMYT community. A plaque with the new name is now located at the library’s entrance and carries special words chosen by Woolston that reflect the importance of publishing and sharing information: “Reading records of past research could inspire your next big idea.”

Scott Ferguson, deputy director general for support services, recounted highlights of Woolston’s career, which included work as director of the division of scientific and technical information at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, and as vicepresident, information programs, at the International Development Research Center (IDRC), in Ottawa, Canada. “From what I can gather, John has already retired three times previously,” Ferguson said. “So I’m not sure where this next move is going to take him.” He mentioned Woolston’s legacy at CIMMYT, particularly the databases of publications on CIMMYT wheat cultivars (IWIS-Bib), of staff journal articles, of pedigrees of CWANA region wheat cultivars, and of doctoral theses supervised by CIMMYT staff.

Deputy director general for research and partnerships, Marianne Bänziger, referred to Woolston’s qualities as a caring human being who provided generous support to visiting scientists and training course participants, including additional assistance for some when critical moments of personal crises called for it. “I have known John for 18 years and have enjoyed and treasured our friendship,” she said. Acting head of corporate communications, Mike Listman, read special messages from Edith Hesse, former head of the CIMMYT library, and from Clive James, former CIMMYT deputy director general, both of whom were instrumental in Woolston’s coming to CIMMYT and who interacted with him over the years. Everyone recalled Woolston’s Tuesday evening Texcoco dinner outings with new staff and visitors, which practically became an institutional tradition. On behalf of the global wheat program, associate director Etienne Duveiller presented Woolston with a lovely shirt.

Upon unveiling the library name plaque, Woolston was clearly moved and spoke of his surprise. “As far as I know, the only persons who have had parts of these buildings named after them are Norman Borlaug, Edwin Wellhausen, and Glenn Anderson*, so I’m extremely honored and humbled to be in such hallowed company!”

Bänziger expressed the shared sentiments of many when she said how much the CIMMYT community would miss Woolston. “Though you’ll be a bit distant from us, we hope you’ll still keep in touch and support our work,” she said.

All the best from your dear friends and colleagues, John!

*Editor’s note: Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa also has a seminar room at El Batán named after him.