A Passion for Life and Rice

Written By Merle Shepard

Originally Published In the Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2011


Tom Hargrove had a passion for rice and for life. He died of a heart attack at the age of 66 on January 23, 2011. I had a long chat with him by phone on the Friday previous evening. He spent a significant part of his life as an editor and writer while heading up the Communications and Publications Department at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Tom and I worked together on several projects but the one I remember most was a field guide that I authored entitled “Friends of the Rice Farmer: Helpful Insects, Spiders, and Pathogens” which was published in 26 languages with 100,000 copies distributed.

Tom was the first person to bring the high-yielding, “green revolution”-type rices to Vietnam. He described his experiences there in a book entitled: A Dragon Lives Forever. He returned to Vietnam later and met some of the Viet Cong who told him that their rifles were aimed at him on several occasions but didn't fire because they realized that he was bringing high-yielding, disease resistant varieties of rice to their country.

One of Tom's passions was SCUBA diving. He and I dived a lot in the Philippines. In lake Taal, Tom found the walls and other parts of old cities that sunk after the mega-volcano occurred hundreds of years earlier. His book Mysteries of Taal describes these sunken towns.

The movie Proof of Life starring Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, was based on Tom's true story of being kidnapped by a rebel group in Colombia, South America and held for 11 months. The kidnapping occurred when Tom was working at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). He was on his way to work when the rebels put up a roadblock and took him captive. His book Long March to Freedom was written using notes that he had scribbled on scraps of paper kept beneath his belt.

Also during Tom's time at CIAT, he found both Carolina White and Carolina Gold rices growing along the Amazon. These were likely brought by Confederados, people in the southern U.S. that immigrated to Brazil around the time of the Civil War.

Tom's presentation in the Carolina Gold Rice Symposium, held here in Charleston in 2005, is carried in a recent book entitled Golden Seed: Writings on the History and Culture of Carolina Gold Rice edited by Dr. David S. Shields.

Tom Hargrove will be missed but the memory of what he accomplished will live on.