Constantine J. Gilgut Chair in Plant Biology to be Established at UMass Amherst

AMHERST, Mass. - The Constantine J. Gilgut Chair in Plant Biology will be established at the University of Massachusetts to honor nearly 50 years of teaching, research, and outreach by retired UMass professor Constantine J. Gilgut. The chair will be funded with a major donation by Gilgut’s family.

Peter Hepler, professor of biology and director of the plant biology program, will be the first professor named to the chair. The Gilgut endowment will support the directorship of the plant biology program, an interdisciplinary program which includes faculty and students from five UMass departments. In addition to providing funds for research and program activities, the endowment will support outstanding students in the field of plant science who be known as Gilgut Fellows.

Chancellor David K. Scott announced the endowed chair on Sat. May 2, at a symposium on campus sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences. Scott presented Gilgut and his family with University clocks, saying: "These UMass clocks are a small token of our appreciation for your service to the University and quite appropriate considering the timeliness of this gift to the plant biology program." He added: "In many ways, the chair you have established also acts as a time machine, bringing together the great tradition of our past as a land-grant institution and the promise of our future as a premier teaching and research University."

A specialist in the control of diseases of potatoes, tobacco, vegetables, fruits, and other crops, Gilgut earned a bachelor’s degree in botany (1931) and a master’s degree in plant pathology (1934) from Massachusetts State College, later named the University of Massachusetts. He became a botany instructor in 1931, and worked at the University’s Waltham Experiment Station until 1952. During those years, he earned a second master’s degree and a doctorate, both in biology, from Harvard University. He returned to the Amherst campus to teach in the departments of botany and plant pathology, becoming active in UMass Extension as well, until his retirement in 1976. Gilgut spent 1966-68 in Malawi, Africa, where he directed academic development at Bunda Agricultural College at the University of Malawi, as part of a UMass-U.S. Agency for International Development project. Gilgut and his wife, Maria, currently reside in Amherst.

The donation establishing the Gilgut endowment will be considered part of Campaign UMass, the comprehensive campaign to raise $125 million, enlist advocates, and enhance the University’s image in Massachusetts and the nation.

Creation of the chair and Hepler’s appointment must be approved by UMass trustees, who are expected to take a formal vote on the endowment at their next meeting.