Dr. Richard L. Sawyer was born on March 17, 1921, and grew up on the family dairy farm in New Sharon, Maine as the second of six children of Helen York and Burt Sawyer. A Purple Heart recipient, he entered the United States Army in 1942, earned the rank of Staff Sergeant, and served his country bravely in World War II. Wounded and captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he was held in Stalag 11B, and was liberated while on a death march towards Lubeck, on the North Sea.
Richard graduated with distinction from the University of Maine and subsequently earned a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1953. He was a Professor of Vegetable Crops, at Cornell until 1966 and NC State University until 1972. In 1972 he founded the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, with research stations in 25 different countries, helping to feed the people of the world.
Despite contributing to over 160 scientific publications, and receiving numerous awards, honorary titles and Doctorates for his work, he was particularly proud of the decades-long effort to collect thousands of potato varieties from around the world, many of which were previously unknown. This genetic material is now safely housed in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, preserving these thousands of species of potatoes (including one named for Richard) with different traits and resistances for future generations to use in case of food crisis.
Richard is survived by his beloved wife, Norma, and son Richard Jan; along with his first wife, Jeanne and daughters Polly, Nancy, and Sara, nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by one brother, Albert, and leaves two brothers, Arthur, and Malcolm, and two sisters, Angie and Blanche, as well as many nieces and nephews.
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Richard truly left this a better world and will be remembered and missed for his compassion, charisma and commitment to feeding the poor. His ashes will be interred at a later date at Arlington National Cemetery. A celebration of his life will take place with family in New Sharon, Maine this summer.
Arrangements by Bryan-Lee Funeral Home, Raleigh.
Online condolences may be offered at www.bryan-lee funeralhome.com