Carolina plant pathologist focused on people, solutions

Jack Bailey's impact went far beyond the science, says a close friend and fellow scientist at North Carolina State University. Bailey died April 12, 2002, from a rare bone marrow disorder. He was 50.

“A lot of people from other departments went to Jack for mentoring,” says Rick Brandenburg, North Carolina State University Extension entomologist. “He had such a positive outlook. In tense meetings, Jack was always the one who came up with something positive to say. People like that are so valuable to a business or a department.”

Bailey lived his life in a positive manner. “He was not what you would call a complainer,” Brandenburg says. “In fact, he was as much on the other end of the spectrum as you can be.”

Although he was diagnosed with the rare bone marrow disorder — the disorder is linked to exposure to pesticides — five years ago, Bailey did not reveal this to anyone outside his family. Brandenburg only knew about the disease a week before Bailey's death. At the time of his death, Bailey was involved in experimental treatments for the disorder. Friends note that it wasn't in his make-up to solicit sympathy for himself. He would much rather enjoy his work, his colleagues and his family without focusing on the negatives.

“One of the key things I appreciated about Jack is that I never saw him upset or concerned about the little things in life,” Brandenburg says. “I can't say I ever saw him angry, regardless of how bad things went — he kept a positive attitude.

“That was one of the key elements of why people enjoyed being around him,” Brandenburg says.

As professor and Extension specialist in the plant pathology department, Bailey's work directly benefited farmers. He was recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in peanut disease management. Working with North Carolina State and Virginia Tech colleagues, Bailey helped develop a method of fumigating that greatly reduced the adverse effects of Cylindrocladium black rot. He was named a fellow of the American Peanut Research and Education Society in 1999.

He also collaborated with Pat Phipps, Virginia Tech Extension plant pathologist, on the leafspot advisory system and was an advocate of its use by farmers to help cut costs without sacrificing control. “His work created a lot of interest for the department and opportunities for grad students,” Brandenburg says.

On his Web page, Bailey advertised for graduate students to work in his program. “Students who choose to work in my program should be interested in solving ‘real world’ problems with innovative approaches,” he wrote. He solicited graduate students from a wide-range of fields including engineering, computer science, ecology, horticulture and agronomy “or other undergraduate curricula.”

Bailey was noted for his wit and great sense of humor, which added to his positive nature. In a Web photo of his lab crew, he identified himself as “the bald man in the middle.”

Bailey was “truly a people person,” Brandenburg says. “He cared about other people and he always asked about their families and children. And when he did, he was genuinely asking about them.

“When my first son was born, Jack was the first person there to visit,” Brandenburg says.

“We traveled a lot together, giving a lot of talks,” his friend says. “We never grew tired of each other's company. That's a rare find when you can interact like that on an extended basis.”

Despite the time away from home giving talks to farmers and others, Bailey made the time to spend with his wife and four sons. “He made sure he made up for the time he was on the road. Jack really took the time to go out of his way to help others,” Brandenburg says.

Jack Bailey is survived by his wife, Rebecca; and four sons, Burke, Trent, Gaines and Grant.

The family requests that memorials be made to your favorite charity in Bailey's name. There's also the possibility that a graduate student fund or seminar will be set up in the near future in the North Carolina State plant pathology department.

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