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Heinz Wuetcher

I do not know all the details of his youth, but Heinz was born in Austria and later joined the merchant marine service and sailed all over the world.  He eventually left the sea to further his education in horticulture. He met his soul mate (Doris) in Hawaii, got married and headed off to school.  He graduated from Cornell with his PhD and went to work with the USDA at the ARS lab in Weslaco Texas.  He was involved in several aspects of citrus research.  His specialties were rootstocks and nutrition, but he also was involved in blight research.  He was the default leader of the so-called abiotic group who believed that blight was more of a disorder than a disease caused by a pathogen.  No one out- worked Heinz!  Much of his blight research took place after he came to the USDA lab at Orlando to more or less replace the retiring Paul Smith.

Heinz was a focused individual.  He carried everything to completion.  For example, he was taking his teenage daughter Heidi to catch a plane for Europe.  She had been invited to spend the summer with one of Heinz’s many contacts all over the world.  Seems someone managed to hit his car while on the way to the airport!  Police arrived and so did the ambulance to transport Heinz to the hospital.  Heidi was not injured.  Heinz would not leave until he got Heidi into a cab and on her way to catch her plane!

He was outspoken.  Heinz was never one to shy away from problems or issues.  He told you what he thought.  Early on in the canker eradication program, Heinz told all those that asked that it was a foolish program.  He had seen canker in South America and realized it could not be eradicated once it became established.  He felt it already had been spread around the state and no regulatory efforts were going to get rid of it.  He was correct.  It was moments like that and the inevitable backlash that led Heinz to summarize his position in the scientific community this way: “I know people talk about me.  Half of what they say is true and half isn’t.  I can live with that.”

Heinz was a familiar face all over the world especially in Latino places.  He spoke several languages including Spanish and was sought after by many fellow researchers and growers to bring his knowledge and insight to solve problems.  He was familiar with citrus production in South America, Europe, Africa, Australia as well as Texas and California.

No one worked any harder than Heinz!  This started in his office and into the lab.  The place I saw his commitment to find answers was in the grove.  Heinz came with generators (pre battery operated hand tools), drills, vials, bags, etc.  He would set up “shop” in the grove and go to work crawling under trees to collect bark samples to analyze for zinc levels (one of the symptoms of trees with blight was an accumulation of zinc in the bark).  He would collect feeder roots and soil samples to check out copper levels and pH in suspect groves with excess copper.

Heinz loved his job and was at his best when in the presence of growers (I imagine this was the same with his family).  He was always anxious to give talks, visit groves, or sit in his office and talk to me.  The back door to the USDA lab in Orlando was well known to this County Agent as I visited the scientists often.  After he retired Heinz loved to attend our Mature Mentors lunch.  He arrived early and left late.  I would get cards from him thanking me for including him in my newsletter.  He never lost that love of interaction even though it became very difficult for him to get around.  Bill Castle was a close friend of Heinz and his family.  These are some comments Doris sent to Bill.

“Heinz lived here (La Siena, Arizona) from June 1 until he passed away on Jan. 2, 2018.  He truly liked this place, enjoying the apartment and especially the food.  It seemed to him like we were living in a hotel.   On Jan. 1 we always listened on PBS the broadcast from Vienna, the annual New Year's Celebration with the Philharmonic Orchestra.  I called the nurses' station to have Heinz turn on the TV to listen to it.  I called him a few minutes later, spoke with him and could hear the music.  He said he was comfortable, no pain, had a nice breakfast enjoying-the music, etc.  The next morning Heidi called him but the nurse said he was sleeping comfortably with no pain, and had a good night, too.  A few hours later the doctor called to say Heinz passed away.  He had accomplished all he wanted to do in his life, had wonderful times the last several months with Heidi (daughter) and Ava (granddaughter), now you may go in peace, knowing I would be well-taken care of.”

Heinz lived a full life and left us with many fond memories.  It is nice to know he was comfortable and enjoyed the last few months of his life with his family.  R.I.P., good friend.


Note: Special thanks to Bill Castle who edited and improved “our” salute to Heinz

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