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Harold Olmo: Pioneering wine, grape scientist, and other obituaries

By Pat Bailey on July 21, 2006 in University News

Harold Olmo, a grape breeder and viticulturist who played a key role in the development of the California wine industry starting in the 1930s, died June 30. He was 96.

Olmo's death has been widely reported in national media, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times.

He was a world-renowned grape geneticist, who developed some 30 grape varieties and improved or authenticated many more. Born in San Francisco, he earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture from UC Davis and UC Berkeley, then joined the viticulture and enology department at UC Davis in 1931. He earned a doctoral degree in genetics from UC Berkeley in 1934.

During his career, he traveled the world in search of rare or endangered grapevines, bringing cuttings back to UC Davis to be studied and propagated. Wild grapevines that he brought from Afghanistan during the 1940s were grown in UC Davis vineyards, and cuttings from some have recently been sent back to Afghanistan because they are now extinct there.

The varieties he developed include the perlette, his first table grape, as well as the ruby cabernet, emerald Riesling, centurion, carnelian symphony, rubired, carmine and flora wine grapes. His work on the chardonnay grape was responsible for developing it from an insignificant variety into California's most important wine grape variety, now grown on nearly 100,000 acres throughout the state.

Olmo retired from UC Davis in 1977 but maintained an office on campus and continued his research until very recently.

Olmo, who died from complications suffered in a hip fracture, is survived by three children and six grandchildren. A campus memorial service is being planned for July 30, the eve of what would have been his 97th birthday.

The UC Davis community also lost three other distinguished members: Calvin Schwabe, professor emeritus of epidemiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine; Robert Brazelton, Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering; and S. Louis Hakimi, professor emeritus and chair of the Department of Electrical and Engineering.

Calvin Schwabe

Schwabe died June 24 at age 79 from complications of post-polio syndrome. Considered the founder of veterinary epidemiology, he was a global authority on animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans and was an advocate for the concept of "one medicine," which seeks to integrate the fields of human and veterinary medicine.

Schwabe wrote several veterinary books, as well as Unmentionable Cuisine, which was something of a cookbook of foods, ranging from bugs to cows eyes and turkey testicles, that are staples in some cultures but abhorrent to people of other cultures.

He earned his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Auburn University in 1954, and went on to earn a master's degree in public health and a doctorate in science from Harvard University in 1955 and 1956, respectively. An expert on hydatid disease, a potentially fatal parasitic infection that is transmitted by tapeworm larvae, Schwabe joined the faculty in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1966, establishing the first epidemiology department and graduate program in the world to be housed within a school of veterinary medicine.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Gwendolyn Schwabe; two children; and four grandchildren. A memorial service in Davis is being planned.

Robert Brazelton

Brazelton died June 18 at age 87 from complications of Parkinson's disease. A farm safety specialist, Brazelton was born in Colorado. He taught elementary school and then wrote aircraft manuals for Douglas Aircraft Company during World War II.

He went on to earn a degree in agricultural engineering in 1950 at UC Davis. He worked in farm equipment manufacturing for five years and spent 10 years working in the aerospace industry before joining the UC Davis faculty in 1965. As a Cooperative Extension specialist, Brazelton worked with county farm advisers and 4-H organizers to promote safe practices with farm equipment and pesticide handling. He went on to earn a master's degree in safety engineering from the University of Southern California in 1975.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Dorothy Brazelton; two children; and two grandchildren. A memorial service has been held in Davis. The family prefers that memorial donations be made to Yolo Hospice, PO Box 1014, Davis, CA 95617.

S. Louis Hakimi

Chair of the Department of Electrical and Engineering from 1986 to 1996, Hakimi died June 23 following a long illness. He was 73.

Hakimi received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois-Urbana in 1955, 1957 and 1959, respectively. In 1986 he joined UC Davis, and retired in 2001. He was an internationally recognized expert in graph theory, which uses mathematics to understand electronic circuits and networks. His work is now widely used in designing microchips.

Hakimi is survived by his wife, Mary, and three children.

Media contact(s)

Pat Bailey, Research news (emphasis: agricultural and nutritional sciences, and veterinary medicine), 530-219-9640,