Robert “Bob” Emerson Allan passed away Sunday, March 28, 2021, at home in Pullman. He was 90 years old.
Bob was born Jan. 12, 1931, to Helen Slattery Allan and William E. Allan in Morris, Ill. He attended grade school and high school in Morris and spent several summers as a cadet at Northwestern Military Academy near Fontana, Wis. As a teenager he developed a keen interest in agriculture working on the family livestock farm in Walworth County, Wis. Bob credited both his dad and his high school vocational agriculture teacher for steering him toward studying agriculture in college.
After his junior year of high school, his dad decided Bob would benefit from changes in his environment and his social behavior. During the summer of 1948, he and his dad took a road trip presumably to buy a bull in Wyoming. As it turned out, they got no further than Ames, Iowa. After taking entrance exams for two days, Bob suddenly became a freshman at Iowa State College rather than becoming a senior in high school and student body president. He graduated from Iowa State in 1952 with a degree in agriculture and a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve.
After a short courtship, he and Barbara Butler were married that June. Needing income, Bob volunteered for active duty in the U.S. Army and was sent to Field Artillery Officers School. After graduating, he was shipped overseas to Japan and Korea. He was a decorated combat veteran of the Korean War, serving as a field artillery forward observer. After six months, the war ended. He returned home the spring of 1954 and was discharged from army active duty. While he was overseas the family farm was sold, which ruled out Bob becoming a farmer. He came to view this as fortunate, because otherwise he may not have pursued a career as a crop scientist.
Having the GI Bill, he applied to graduate school and sought a crop science research assistantship at several colleges. Turned down by his first and second choices, he was offered an assistantship in the wheat breeding program at Kansas State College. There he worked under an outstanding mentor, which equipped him for his lifetime career as a wheat geneticist and breeder. Luck continued for him; upon graduating from Kansas State College, he was offered a U.S. Department of Agriculture job in Pullman. The job was in the wheat breeding program of Doctor Orville Vogel. Orville Vogel became a world-famous crop scientist by breeding wheat varieties that set world yield records and developing the genetic stocks that made the Wheat Green Revolution possible. Bob believed that the chance to work with Orville Vogel, gaining insight as to his approaches and philosophy to wheat breeding, had a profound impact on his own career.
Bob spent his entire career in Pullman with the USDA. He served 24 years as research leader of the Pullman Wheat Research Unit. This unit is nationally and internationally recognized for its research. His personal scientific accomplishments included explaining the inheritance of semidwarf plant height in wheat, isolating, characterizing and naming the two semidwarf genes used in the Wheat Green Revolution. With colleagues he was among the first to use molecular markers to facilitate breeding for wheat disease resistance. He bred several wheat varieties that were grown in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Several of his varieties had durable resistance to the major wheat diseases in the region. They reduced the need to use pesticides that were expensive and potentially damaging to the environment. The capstone of his career was receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 from the National Association of Plant Breeders. Bob was fond of saying he was a one-trick dog. Even after retiring in 1996 he continued making wheat crosses and conducting genetic experiments in his garden on the Old Moscow Road farm.
After his first marriage ended, Bob became closer to his four children. Downhill skiing, camping, sailing and trips to the Idaho tree farm were activities they all enjoyed, perhaps Bob most of all. Later, he and his four children went on several trips, including back to Illinois and Wisconsin where he grew up.
In 1973 fate smiled on Bob when a beautiful Hispanic graduate student sought his advice concerning a wheat disease. After sharing his advice, Bob ignored accepted faculty-student protocol and asked her for a date. She agreed and Carolyn (Carrie) Roybal and Bob were married in August of 1974 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pullman. In addition to becoming his soulmate, Bob credited Carolyn with reuniting him with Catholicism, his mother’s faith and where he was baptized. Bob joked that Carrie was both his wife and his long-term care insurance policy. This actually became very true. Both Bob and Carrie pursued their separate careers; his as a wheat geneticist and hers as a pharmacist. Together they enjoyed the theater, dancing, biking, camping and running in Bloomsday Races. They were avid WSU Cougar fans; Bob admits Carrie was more dedicated than he was. They enjoyed traveling in U.S., Mexico and several European countries. Bob and Carrie’s extended family all had four paws and were adopted from shelters, deceased neighbors or strayed to the farm. Bob was certain these four-pawed critters added years to his life.
Bob valued his friendships, beginning with his older brother, Tom. Perhaps because they were so different is why they enjoyed each other’s company so much. Both had quick wits and sharp senses of humor. Well, at least they thought so. Most of Bob’s close friends were his colleagues at WSU. Long after he retired and as the only conservative, he diligently made every effort to regularly go to Johnson Hall for coffee. He and his cronies never tired of repeating the same old jokes and solving the world’s problems.
The family put up with Bob’s many yarns, noting that they tended to vary over time due to his penchant for always making a good story better. This was not surprising because he had actually kissed the Blarney Stone when he and Carrie toured Ireland.
Bob had great interest in the genealogy of his family. He was fond of sharing the many colorful accounts of his Irish, Scottish and Norwegian ancestors with the rest of the family. These stories were passed on to him by his parents, grandparents and older aunts and uncles. His family has promised him to continue this tradition.
Bob enjoyed a long, happy and full life, as a son, brother, soldier, husband, father, scientist, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was thankful that the Lord allowed him to share his life with Carrie, his children, their children and their children as well, and of course, with the four-pawed critters.
Bob was preceded in death by his parents, brother Tom and son Jeffrey. He is survived by his wife Carrie of 46 years; his children Pat and Janet Allan, Scott and Teresa Allan, Robin Allan and daughter-in-law, Jennifer Hoffmann Allan; grandchildren Jessica and Travis Schlaman, Naomi and Rodrigo Bebin, Robert and Nikki Allan, Brian Allan, Heidi and Craighton Vance, and Nathan, Riley and Quinten Chadwick. At the time of his death, he had 17 great grandchildren.
Clan Ranald’s motto: “My hope is constant in thee, Gainsay Who Dare”.
Bob’s final request was that he be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows he is dead.
There will be a private family funeral Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pullman. Bob will be laid to rest at the Pullman Cemetery. Kimball Funeral Home of Pullman has been entrusted with arrangements. Memorial donations are suggested to the Whitman County Humane Society, Circles of Caring – Adult Day Care, or to the National Park Service. Online condolences may be sent to www.kimballfh.com.