Former Regents’

Andy Skemp

The University Department of Genetics and Cell Biology recently lost one of its major contributors.
Ralph Comstock, Regents’ professor emeritus of genetics at the University, died July 6 in Sun City, Ariz. He was 86.
Internationally renowned for his research in quantitative genetics, Comstock is remembered by colleagues as a man dedicated to his field, kind and approachable both as a professional and a friend.
“Ralph was open and friendly,” said Elving Anderson, an emeritus professor in genetics at the University. “He was always available for consultation and discussion, and that made him an effective collaborator.”
Comstock co-created a breeding method called reciprocal recurrent selection. Used in both plant and animal breeding, the method enabled breeders to develop the genetic structure of two populations to obtain the maximum performance hybrid. This unique research gained him international recognition.
For this accomplishment, as well as his contributions to the study of artificial insemination, Comstock was named Regents’ professor in 1968, the highest recognition the University can bestow on a professor.
Comstock earned a University bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1934, a master’s in animal husbandry in 1936 and a doctorate in animal breeding in 1938. After an associate professorship at North Carolina State, he returned to the University in 1957 as a professor of animal husbandry.
Anderson worked with Comstock in the first years of his professorship at the University, and remembered his leading role in establishing the Department of Genetics in 1965, of which Comstock was the first head.
In 1968 Professor Frederick Forro took his place, allowing Comstock to continue teaching and research.
“He thought of himself as a scientist, not an administrator,” Forro said. “He was always available to help.”
Comstock and Forro became good friends soon after first meeting each other.
“He was an extremely congenial and good colleague,” said Forro,”we also shared certain, moderately left-wing societal views.”
Peter Snustad, genetics professor and former colleague of Comstock, said Comstock believed every person was equally important.
“Ralph was the champion of the average person. He believed that people should be evaluated on the basis of what they did, not their name or who they knew.”
After retirement in 1981, Comstock continued to contribute to his field, finishing his book, “Quantitative Genetics With Special Reference To Plant and Animal Breeding.”