A unique knack for people and a love for family were two hallmarks of Bob Whitson, Ph.D., who passed away March 17 after a longtime career as an administrator with Texas A&M AgriLife that solidified relationships with some of the state’s prominent beef producers and industry stakeholders.
Whitson served as interim associate director for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state operations before retirement in 2019 but returned to serve as special assistant to the vice chancellor working with ranchers across Texas, capping a career that spanned academia, banking and Extension administration.
“Bob had just marvelous people skills,” said Ron Castleberry, brother-in-law, during a memorial service held in College Station March 21.
A native of Spearman, Whitson earned a bachelor’s degree in range management and a master’s degree in agricultural economics from Texas Tech University, and his doctorate in agricultural economics from Texas A&M in 1974. He was inducted into the Tyrus R. Timm Honor Registry within the Department of Agricultural Economics in 2011. The honor recognizes outstanding former students for meritorious accomplishments in their field. It is the highest department-level honor.
“Bob was the most effective leader and the best person with whom I ever served,” said Parr Rosson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension associate head for the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management and former interim director for AgriLife Extension. “The greatest thing about Bob was that even though he traveled the world, he never left the Texas Panhandle. His humble nature, loyalty, respect and work ethic are unparalleled. His calm, decisive manner allowed him to smooth the most severe crisis and have all concerned come away with a win.”
A lifetime of contributions
Whitson joined AgriLife Extension in 1974. He taught agricultural economics and range science at Texas A&M from 1974 to 1981, then worked for 12 years in the trust division of Frost National Bank in San Antonio, rising to the rank of senior vice president. He returned to Texas A&M as a professor and head of the Department of Rangeland Ecology and Management, where he helped focus research needs on the most pressing issues related to rangeland conservation and use until 2003.
In 2002, he was asked to serve as the interim department head for the Department of Animal Science and he also served as the associate vice chancellor and associate dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He also began serving as the deputy director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, known then as the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. After serving in that position for three years, he left Texas A&M to serve as the vice president, dean and director of the Oklahoma State University Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a position he held until his retirement in 2012 and later returning to Texas A&M AgriLife.
Ron Lacewell, Ph.D., retired assistant vice chancellor in Texas A&M AgriLife’s Office of Federal Relations, and Whitson met at Texas Tech as master’s students. Their paths would cross again at Texas A&M during Whitson’s career with AgriLife Extension and as department head for range science.
“I’ll always remember his sharp wit,” Lacewell said, who helped persuade Whitson to pursue his doctoral degree.
Lacewell said he and Whitson spent countless hours on the road working on a special state beef industry initiative.
“I always enjoyed poking him in the eye now and then,” Lacewell told the congregation. “Nobody won when we’d go back-and-forth at each other. I’m going to miss Bob. He was a good, dear friend. It’s a sad day for me, and I’m sure for you all. May he rest in peace.”
Castleberry said Whitson’s courtship of his sister, Linda, began with a phone call and invitation to share a Coke. A four-month courtship led to a 59-year marriage.
“Bob worked a combine from the Panhandle all the way up to South Dakota so he could pay for college,” Castleberry said. “He was about work and family.”
Whitson is survived by his wife, Linda; daughters, Cristie Whitson Christopher and Susan Whitson Hardy; son-in-law, Brad Hardy; siblings, Betty, Frances and Tom Whitson along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given in his honor to the Texas 4-H Youth Development Foundation or the Oklahoma 4-H Foundation Scholarships, which supports scholarships for 4-H youths.