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Passing of an agrobiodiversity champion: Dr George Wagdi Ayad

Dr George Wagdi Ayad, a beloved friend and colleague of Bioversity International and partners, passed away in Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt, where he had retired a few years ago. Dr Wagdi Ayad was the former Regional Director of Bioversity International's office for Central, West Asia and North Africa (CWANA). We have collected messages of love from his friends and colleagues who will miss him dearly.

Dr George Wagdi Ayad, a beloved friend and colleague of Bioversity International and partners, passed away in Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt, where he had retired a few years ago. He was part of Bioversity International - then International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR) - in its very early days, more than 40 years ago. For years, Dr Wagdi Ayad was the former Regional Director of Bioversity International's office for Central, West Asia and North Africa (CWANA). Throughout his life, he contributed greatly to promoting the conservation and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity, especially in Central Asia.

Funeral services will be held at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt on Thursday, January 19, 2017.

Below we have collected some messages from his friends and colleagues who will miss him dearly:

George was one of our pioneers. He joined the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR, now Bioversity International) in its early years and worked in a whole variety of areas with a dedication that has seldom been equaled, ending as Director of the Central and West Asia Region of International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI, now Bioversity International). He was a leading member of the Genetic Diversity Group at IPGRI in the 1990s and was perhaps the first of us all to see the importance of the developing biodiversity conservation agenda, insisting on our participation in the 1992 meetings that gave life to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). George’s knowledge of crop diversity was extremely wide and his commitment to its conservation was total. He was someone who believed in the central importance of international collaboration and of the importance of our work with, and commitment to, national programmes. Perhaps, above all, he was a kind and thoughtful colleague of immense integrity whose mentoring, support and insights were of the greatest importance to both of us and to may other friends and colleagues over the years we were privileged to work with him. We will miss him. Toby Hodgkin, Coordinator, Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research (PAR) and Devra Jarvis, Principal Scientist, Bioversity International

I will cherish my memories and be grateful for the time I had with such a special person. Ten years of achievements, ongoing learning and success. What an amazing leader and what a remarkable life. George was more than a colleague; he was a brother, a teacher, a mentor and moreover real friend. I feel so lucky that I got to know him. Words don an injustice in explaining how much we will miss Dr. Ayad. He well remain very alive in our memories and the great job he has done for farmers and biodiversity. Rami Khalil, Professor of management, Sichuan International Studies University, Former Media & Public Awareness Officer, CWANA Regional Office

He was a great friend, as well as a great champion for agricultural biodiversity in Egypt and throughout the region. Luigi Guarino, Director of Science and Programs, The Global Crop Diversity Trust

Dr George Ayad who was my teacher, supervisor and friend of many people who work in the area of agrobiodiversity. He was a fantastic person who dedicated his life to support of national plant genetic resources (PGR) programmes, networking with PGR people, countries and regions. There are not enough words to describe how big this loss is. Muhabbat Turdieva, Regional Project Coordinator, Central Asia, Bioversity International

He was a real inspiration to me in my early days at IBPGR. If not for George, there would never have been a Geneflow magazine. Ruth Raymond, former Bioversity International Head of Public Awareness Unit, currently freelance writer

Such terrible news. He was a great scientist, regional director and kind person in my earlier days in IPGRI. Bhuwon Sthapit, Senior Scientist, In Situ and On-Farm Conservation Specialist, Regional Project Coordinator, Bioversity International

It has been almost 12 years now since I left IPGRI, and still remember his words of wisdom as a great leader and as a friend. Firas Shuman, Environmental Technical Specialist at UNDP and former Bioversity International staff

We will miss him. He was a great person and has contributed greatly to promoting the conservation and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity and training of many young people. Ahmed Amri, Head of GRS/Deputy Director of BIGMP, ICARDA

George's passing is a great loss to all who have known him. My experience with him over a period of 6 years tells the whole story about a unique person who dedicated himself to scientific research and development in addition to his charming personality. My sincere and deep condolences go to his family and to all who have known him. Faisal Maya, ex Assistant to the Director General of ICARDA

This is a great shock. Our professional community has lost one of its central and long-standing leaders, a great colleague, and a really wonderful person. My condolences to his family and many friends. Cary Fowler, former Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust

Thank you George for being such a great Regional Director for Central West Asia and North Africa (CWANA). Thank you for your enthusiasm, charisma and scientific vision. Upon your arrival in Aleppo in 1997 we started a program of tireless visits to NARS across the whole region which led to a rebirth of plant genetic resources programs from Morocco to Central Asia: human capacities were strengthened with lots of training courses, hands-on research and mentoring; new genebanks built and existing ones improved, international projects launched, policies influenced... The CWANA office in Aleppo became soon a symbol of success and continued growth and its team something we were all proud to be part of. You have inspired us in science, integrity, respect and care for the vulnerable whom we strove to always include and empower in our work. In fact, you made us better human beings. Thank you for being such a dedicated leader, mentor and friend. We will be missing you dearly. Stefano Padulosi, Senior Scientist, Integrated Conservation Methodologies and Use, Bioversity International

In him, we have lost a true crusader of plant genetic resources, whose contributions will be fondly remembered. For me, he was a great friend and a well wisher. I pray Almighty for peace to the departed soul and enough courage to his family members to bear this loss with fortitude. Raj Paroda, former Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and as secretary of India’s Department of Agricultural Research and Education

I have known George since I joined IPGRI in 1999 and have had the opportunity to work with him on many occasions in the CWANA region in the establishment of genebanks in several countries and in training of local staff in genetic resources management. He has been a fervent defendant of strengthening national programmes through capacity building in this important area of diversity. I think we can say many of today’s leaders in genetic resource field in this region made it to this level thanks to George's vision. Ehsan Dulloo, Scientist, Conservation and Availability of Genetic Resources, Bioversity International

When he was heading the Biodiversity Unit in Tel Hadya, I had many occasions of interacting with him and in designing joint programs. I have fond memories of him as a very gentle person and a sincere colleague. Mohan C. Saxena, Executive Secretary, International Dryland Development Commission

Message from Ashir Saparmuradov: Жалко Джордж Айада. Он действительно много сделал для восстановления местных сортов плодовых культур в Ценрально-Азиатских странах. Когда - то все умирают. Вспомнил стихи Магтумкулы:
Магтымгулы ким бар олмез,
Ажал доймаз, земин долмаз
Асман инмез, ер човрулмез
Гун ёрир, айлар горунер.

Глубоко скорбит ушедшего из жизни замечательного человека который внес огромный вклад в   области сохранения агробиоразнообразия по регионам странах Центральной Азии, невосполнимый утрата, и пусть душа его покоится с миром и земля будет ему пухом. -Мавлон Пулодович

Привожу искреннее соболезнование по поводу безвременной смерти д-ра Джорджа Айада. В моей памяти образ этого человека тесно связан с работой в Проекте по агробиоразнообразию, который привнес в мой опыт много  интересных навыков и оставил в памяти плодотворные минуты сотрудничества. -Галина Камахина

When I joined IPGRI in 1996, George was probably the most influential person in the earlier part of my career. I have been truly privileged to work alongside such an inspirational and generous person with his knowledge and time. He respected all points of views and enjoyed debating. He was assertively right in so many ways, a real visionary. I think of all his family and friends in this very difficult time. Brigitte Laliberté, Scientist, Cacao Genetic Resources and Diversity, Bioversity International

I am very sorry to learn about the very sad demise of our dear friend and colleague George Ayad. No doubt George has been contributing greatly through IPGRI and ICARDA to the conservation of invaluable genetic resources in various parts of the world particularly Central, West Asia and North Africa. Certainly George will be always by remembered ICARDA colleagues and friends for his remarkable professional contribution and for respectful interpersonal relations. Mahmoud Solh, Former Director General of ICARDA

I am deeply shocked to learn about the sad demise of George Ayad who was very well known to me as a senior colleague as Regional Director in Bioversity International. He was indeed a good scientist, able administrator and a team worker and above all a very good human being. The scientific community lost a crusader of agrobiodiversity conservation and utilization. Bhag Mal, Interim Executive Secretary of APAARI and former Coordinator of IPGRI’s office in India

Казахстанские ученые выражают глубокие соболезнования семье и коллегам безвременно ушедшего Д-ра Джорджа Айада. Это большая утрата для научного мира. Он был крупным  ученым, организатором науки международного масштаба.Под его руководством и им лично много сделано в регионе Центральной Азии и Закавказья для сохранения биоразнообразия растений.Он неоднократно посещал Казахстан, где реализованы ряд важных проектов. В нашей памяти он навсегда останется профессионалом и приятным, искренним человеком. Д-р Баян Алимгазинова

Photo (top): Dr George Wagdi Ayad playing the lute at a CGIAR meeting in Morocco (2002).

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