Gardner, Max W. (1890-1979) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
At Michigan Agricultural College, now Michigan State University, he received a B.S. degree in forestry in 1912 and an honorary Sc.D. in 1950.
His first professional job was with the Pennsylvania Chestnut Blight Commission in Philadelphia, where he worked with F. D. Heald who encouraged him to take graduate work in plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, under L. R. Jones. Here he received the M.S. degree in 1915 and the Ph.D. in 1918. During these years he worked intermittently with the U.S. Office of Truck Crop Diseases with G. K. Link.
His first academic position was as instructor in botany at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1917-18. In 1919 he moved to the department of Botany at the Agricultural Experiment Station of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, under H. S. Jackson. He became chief of Botany and initiated the first graduate work in plant pathology there in 1929. In 1932 he joined the Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Berkeley and Davis, where he succeeded R. E. Smith as chairman in 1936.
After he arrived in California one of his principal research projects was a study of an epidemic of the virus disease of tomatoes, lettuce, and other truck crops. Ornamental plants were also attacked and Dr. Gardner identified the cause as the spotted-wilt virus. He became an authority on this virus and helped to work out its symptomatology, epidemiology, its spread by thrips, and its eventual control. The study of this disease in the field uncovered other diseases which he encouraged his younger staff to investigate.
Max Gardner was a firm believer in the importance of field experience in the training of plant pathologists. He instituted the first formal field course in the department. Here he inspired much enthusiasm in the students for detecting and diagnosing diseases of field and truck crops and later, of all crops.
Approximately half of the course was devoted to field observations and to collecting diseased plants and half to studying and culturing the pathogens in the laboratory. He was a superb diagnostician. Growers and pathologists had a high regard for his judgment. He had a contagious enthusiasm for scientific observation. For example, he enjoyed showing others how he looked for fungus on plants.
He served on many professional committees including the Division of Biology and Agriculture of the National Research Council. He was a life member of the American Phytopathological Society, serving as vice president in 1930, president in 1931, and editor of Phytopathology from 1959 to 1964. He was author or co-author of 180 publications.
In administration he tried to follow the dictum of his superior, Dean C. B. Hutchison, who advised: "Choose good men, give them good facilities, and leave them alone."
After his retirement in 1957 he continued his professional interest by building up the separates collection in the Plant Pathology Library. This collection became one of the finest in the country. It attracted pathologists from other parts of the world who were writing books. It is one of his lasting contributions to the Department.
Max continued to aid and encourage his younger colleagues. He was noted for his kindly concern for the interests of all his friends. For example, he returned to his earlier interest in birds. He could identify them by songs, behavior, and habitat and was often asked for help in identification.
His broad interest in biology took him into the field right up to the last. One of his favorite outings was to the U.C. Botanical Garden where he went at least once a week for many years. He liked to observe seasonal changes in plants, and he collected powdery mildews (Erysiphaceae), many of which were new to the United States.
From early in his life Max Gardner took delight in collecting Indian artifacts, especially arrowheads. He had hundreds, mostly from fields in Indiana.
His wide reading extended to such works as Irving Stone's The Greek Treasure, James Westfall Thompson's books on medieval history, and Charles M. Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta.
In 1922 he married Margaret Briggs, a minister's daughter who was then deputy state chemist at Purdue University. They had two children, Mary Frances Schottstaedt and Murray Briggs Gardner.
Professor Gardner died of a heart attack in Berkely, October 31, 1979.