Inducted: November 13, 2012
Dr. Ablett had a brilliant mind, impressive administrative and creative skills, and a personality that endeared him to everyone he met. Those gifts, and others, enabled him to leave an indelible imprint on agriculture in a tragically brief lifetime.
His legacy was recognized and valued. One tribute: "His outstanding leadership on both the Ridgetown and Guelph Campuses (University of Guelph) helped advance agriculture in Ontario and around the world."
Dr. Ablett was born in Halifax and shortly after, his family moved to Brooklin, Ontario. When he was a teenager, they relocated to Mississauga where he completed his secondary education. He obtained his B.Sc. at the University of Waterloo in 1975 and went on to the University of Guelph for his M.Sc. in 1978, and his Ph.D. in 1987.
In 1979, Dr. Ablett and his wife and young son moved to this area from Kitchener where he became a Lecturer and Researcher in the Farm Crop Section of the College of Agricultural Technology, and in 1990, Manager of the College's Agronomy and Farm Crop Section. Here, he manifested his creative ability in his public soybean breeding program that would, amazingly, deliver 50 new soybean varieties for growers. Until 2008, these new soybean varieties often had names beginning with RCAT, recognition of their genesis. These were varieties that had the high yields that farmers wanted, along with specialized traits in demand both locally and globally.
Dr. Ablett was able to keep in perspective both the global demand for soybeans and his interests and commitment to the growth of both public and private soybean industries. This was amply demonstrated by his work with breeders, processors, farmers and regulators to help advance Canadian soybean seed at all levels. Throughout his career, he nurtured close relationships with local growers, enjoying both visiting with, and offering his expertise to farmers throughout southwestern Ontario.
Dr. Ablett was a key figure in Ridgetown College's amalgamation with the University of Guelph; and he became its first Director, a position he held for 10 years. This gave him the perfect platform from which he was able to exercise his leadership abilities. Although busy with increasing administrative responsibilities as the college grew and thrived, he made time to continue with some teaching and continued to mentor graduate students, which he considered a privilege. He often stated that working with students was an opportunity to touch the future. When called upon, he accepted a two-year secondment to Guelph as Chairman of the Plant Agriculture Department from 2004 through 2006 and then returned to the college to continue his term as Director.
As a man of vision, Dr. Ablett was determined in his new challenge as the Ridgetown Campus Director to provide athletic and academic facilities for an expanding student body. The official opening of the Rudy H. Brown Rural Development Centre was proof that challenge was being met and that the vision had been realized.
The hundreds of people who had helped him in this project – alumni, donors, associates and friends – gave him a heart-warming standing ovation during the ceremonies, a tribute to a dynamic Director. In 2007, he was named Chatham-Kent Agriculturist of the Year, an honour usually given to agri-business leaders and farmers.
He accompanied all this with active membership in a host of professional organizations. He was a member of the Canadian Society of Agronomy, the Ontario Oil and Protein Seed Crop Committee, the American Society of Agronomy, the Eastern Expert Committee on Cereal Oilseeds, and the Soybean Germplasm Committee (U.S. Department of Agriculture – 1994 to 1996).
Dr. Ablett was also an Associate Editor of the Canadian Journal of Plant Science and an Associate Member of the Canadian Seed Growers Association.
In August, 2009, Dr. Ablett went to Beijing, China, where he had the honour of serving as co-chairman of the World Soybean Research Conference.
Dr. Ablett was active in his community as a member and past president of the Blenheim Community Golf Club and was a former Blenheim Kinsman and member of the Blenheim Curling Club. He and his wife, the former Jane Talbourdet, have two sons; Jeff (Kerri) and Greg (Anna), who both currently reside in Vancouver. He did not live long enough to welcome his grandson Oliver, who was born on January 15th, 2012.
From the Far East, South America, the United States, and across Canada, Dr. Ablett's family received a great number of tributes in the days and weeks following his death, from the many colleagues and friends that he had interacted with during his career. What Gary always cared most about, however, were the people in his own back yard. To that end, we note the comments from his friends and co-workers at Ridgetown and Guelph. Ken McEwan, Interim Director, Ridgetown Campus, University of Guelph:
"Gary was able to achieve greatness and have impact in all dimensions of his professional life – soybean research, teaching and administration. He was a respected and trusted mentor and friend to many faculty and staff at both the Ridgetown and Guelph Campuses. Perhaps his best personal attributes were his sincere interest in people, diplomatic style, and ability to always make things better despite the many obstacles in the road. His natural leadership and balanced perspective will always be remembered."
Istvan Rajcan, Professor and Acting Graduate Coordinator, Department of Plan Agriculture, University of Guelph said:
"Gary has a special place in my heart as one of the people who contributed most to the shaping of my career in soybean breeding and genetics at Guelph. Gary's knowledge of plant breeding and genetics, agriculture per se and the soybean industry of Guelph had made him a world renowned scientist. He made many contributions to the soybean industry by the development of excellent and popular soybean varieties for Ontario farmers. Gary's intelligence, sage advice, calm demeanour, willingness to help everyone without reservation and, last but not the least, his great sense of humour, have made him a true role model for me that I will treasure for a lifetime."
Catherine Chavis, Human Resources and Financial Aid Officer at Ridgetown who worked with Dr. Ablett for many years noted that there was widespread recognition of his wonderful qualities and may have summed it up best: "Everyone loved him", she said. "Everyone!"