In Memory

John Labavitch

John Labavitch

John Labavitch

Posted by Ann Filmer

UC Davis professor emeritus John Labavitch, who taught countless students about plant development, fruit ripening, and cell walls, and who was well-known and respected for his research, passed away on September 24, 2019.

After earning a Ph.D. from Stanford University, Labavitch began his faculty position in the Department of Pomology (now part of the Department of Plant Sciences) at UC Davis in 1976, working on cell walls and postharvest biology. He retired in 2014 as a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences. His main subject areas were cell wall metabolism in relationship to aspects of fruit development and ripening, plant-pathogen interactions, and biofuel production.

His lab group introduced the use of specific polysaccharide structural information to describe and understand changes in plant cell walls that occur as fruits ripen and/or are infected by pathogens. These studies led to the description of plant proteins that inhibit pathogen and insect cell wall-digesting enzymes and, thus, contribute to plant resistance to these crop "enemies."

Roger Romani and John Labavitch
Professors emeriti Roger Romani and John Labavitch, Dept. of Plant Sciences, UC Davis. (photo Ann Filmer/UC Davis)


In 2015, Labavitch received the Academic Senate’s “Distinguished Teaching Award for Graduate and Professional Teaching.” Over the course of his career, he developed and taught, with colleagues, several undergraduate and graduate courses, and the core courses of the Plant Biology, and the Horticulture and Agronomy graduate groups.

Upon Labavitch receiving the Distinguished Teaching Award:

His devotion to students in the Plant Biology Graduate Program can be characterized in three words: dedication, passion and encouragement. Students and colleagues feel he far exceeded his expected role in organizing and executing the required core series, creating an interactive and connected foundational series. To students he conveyed his passion for biology, that it should be studied both for its intrinsic beauty as well as its application to human betterment. And students appreciated his bright and encouraging spirit: He was nothing but enthusiastic and optimistic.

John Labavitch is survived by his wife, Frances Tennant, who earned a Ph.D. in Genetics at UC Davis. Information is pending about a memorial service. In his retirement, Labavitch continued to work, traveled with his wife, and regularly challenged his dog to see who could walk farther. He will be missed by his many friends, colleagues, and former students.

(Article by Ann Filmer, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis. September 27, 2019.)

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09/25/19 10:35 PM #1    

Douglas Sprigg

I remember John as he is pictured in his yearbook photo.  His smile says it all.  Those who had John as part of their lives were fortunate.  My sympathjies to them for their loss.  --Doug Sprigg


09/26/19 01:31 PM #2    

Rosemary Eng

When I attended the reunion in 2001 after decades of being away from Cincinnati, Joyce Romer kindly put me up the night before the reunion and John kindly took me to the airport after the reunion was over. I knew John in high school to say hello, but not well at all. I always appreciated that act of thoughtfulness. 

09/26/19 04:24 PM #3    

D. Keith Humphries

John was one of the most friendly, unassuming, witty, and quietly brilliant persons I was honored to know since we first met at Shroder Junior High School. My heartfelt condolences to John's family and extended family of friends and acquaintences whose life he touched over the years.

09/26/19 04:52 PM #4    

Carol Jacobs (Bussey)

Oddly, I happened to think of John yesterday, how he entertained 10th grade English class with a hilarious rendition of Marc Antony's speech.  I think it was in 9th grade that he ran for class president on the slogan, "Prepositional phrases or bust!"

09/27/19 02:05 PM #5    

Joyce Romer


From Joyce Romer.   John gave me the prettiest pearl on a gold chain for my 16th birthday. I still have it and wear it often. We were sweethearts throughout high school and college.

We both attended Indiana colleges, Hanover for me and Wabash for John, so distance was not a problem. After we went our separate ways,we continued our communications with calls, letters, cards and emails.

Dr. John Labavitch ( a bio plant chemist) not only taught at Davis in California but did research for the University. John had a great sense of humor and many times would say with a smile “ Yes, I work in the fruit and nut department”.

I’m sure the angels will enjoy his jokes and unique guips. John enriched my life. I will miss his friendship.




09/30/19 03:08 PM #6    

Barry Fielman

What wonderful coments about Johnfrom the folks at UC Davis about his humanity and love of the science of plant cell walls etc.The common threads in all the comments were his warmness, his ability to mentor students and teachers alike, love of teaching and sharing his life experiences/life story all with a great sense of humor.  Very sad to hear of his passing.  When I first heard of his passing, I thought back to our high school years and pictured John as warm, always with a smile on his face and with a wonderful sense of humor. Reading all the accolades from the folks at UC Davis, it is very apparent that not only will he very much be missed, but he will also be remembered for  a long, long time.

10/01/19 07:53 PM #7    

Ronald Retzler

John was my best friend at Woodward High School. We did so many things together in those years. John was a warm and considerate person. Words are hard to express at this time. 

I was blessed to have John as such a good friend for those years. So many great memories that I still have of our friendship. God bless you, dear friend.

10/01/19 11:43 PM #8    

James E. Schwab

John was a friendly, thoughtful and supportive classmate.  He was interested in everything, and everyone, around him.  He greeted all of us with a smile and warm hello.  I also remember him as a really good football player-fast and tough and competitive.  His career at UC Davis was obviously productive and impactful.  I think the region around Davis is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.  No doubt John’s work had a significant impact on the growth and development of the area.  UC Davis picked the right person as their department leader.  I wish that I had a chance to spend more time with him.  He was special to us all.

10/02/19 09:28 AM #9    

Mitchell Goldberg

John was a great guy.  He sat behind me in Mr. Sanger's American History class and we quickly became friends.  We "cut-up" together during the class.  He was a really good athlete.  He was a running back on the reserve team, but he could have started on the varsity teams in most of the high school teams in Cincinnati.  I was told (by Eddie Southard) that John acted as a coach for the varsity team because he knew the plays better than the other players.  RIP

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