When Jere McBride was hired, he was the youngest administrator in the LSU AgCenter at age 36.
At 70, when he retired in 2008, he was the oldest.
"I doubt anybody has more memories working for the AgCenter than I do," said McBride, who retired as director of the Northwest Region.
McBride began his AgCenter career as director of the Pecan Research and Extension Station in Shreveport in 1973 and, coincidentally, finished his career there at his last official meeting on Feb. 28, 2008.
"The Pecan Station was in ill-repair and quite honestly an eyesore," said David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research and director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. Boethel, then an entomology researcher, was one of the first faculty members hired by McBride when he assumed the leadership of the station. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had transferred the station to the LSU AgCenter.
McBride recalls his mother wondering why he accepted a job at such a muddy, run-down place layered with poison ivy and little equipment.
"Within a year, through Dr. McBride’s leadership, the station began to look like a research facility," Boethel said. "To me, this represents an adaptability that is characteristic of a leader. The research stations he has led always looked professional and well-kept. They reflect favorably on the AgCenter."
During his tenure, McBride worked under seven experiment station directors, including Boethel, four extension directors and four chancellors.
He secured the first doctoral faculty at the Pecan Station and it quickly became one of the leading single-commodity state research stations in the nation. Sales of pecans, which generated significant income for more research, increased yearly, but more importantly, introduced people to the AgCenter, McBride said.
In 1979, he moved to the Red River Research Station in Bossier City to become director. His leadership goals were to enhance research efforts on agronomic and livestock enterprises in Northwest Louisiana, and he did that.
In 1996, the Pecan Station again was added to his administrative responsibilities.
In 2001, when the LSU AgCenter reorganized into eight regions (there are now seven), McBride was named director for the AgCenter’s Northwest Region. In this capacity, he not only oversaw the two research stations but also the extension operation in seven parishes. All together, he supervised approximately 100 people.
"He has always been so supportive of everything we do," said Joan Almond, parish chair for Webster and Claiborne parishes. "I quickly found out that if we needed something to make our job performance better, I could depend on Dr. McBride to help us get it. He truly cared about our staff and tried to help us get the job done."
"His record of service and dedication demonstrates the loyalty and sense of duty that Dr. McBride has shown to the AgCenter," Boethel said. "He has served admirably in every assignment asked of him. When you consider the 10 years he worked for Shell in their agricultural division, he has given 44 years to agriculture. This is a significant accomplishment and worthy of our recognition."
McBride joined Shell Agricultural Chemical Co. in 1963 just before receiving his Ph.D. in January 1964 from LSU in plant pathology. He received his M.S. in plant pathology from LSU in 1961, and his undergraduate work was at Louisiana Tech University in wildlife conservation and game management.
McBride’s Shell assignments were in New Orleans, then New York City, Little Rock, Dallas and Atlanta.
"Those last seven years, I bought four houses and sold three," he said. In contrast, he resided in one house in Shreveport for his 34 years with the AgCenter.
His work for Shell began during scrutiny of pesticides brought about by the release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. This book, about widespread ecological degradation, touched off an environmental awareness that still exists.
At Shell, McBride investigated a large bird kill south of Miami in 1972, isolating the cause as misapplication and saving one of Shell’s products, an event that made national headlines. He recalls this being the first time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a hearing on the fate of a pesticide.
McBride worked in various research and development capacities with Shell – development of products, product uses and environmental issues and studies. He conducted research to resolve product problems and label expansion and provided an advanced level of technical support to marketing districts. He maintained close cooperative working relationships with researchers at land-grant universities and regulatory officials.
In fact, he learned of the resident director position at the Pecan Station through one of the LSU contacts he had made.
McBride said he has always operated with the philosophy of providing support to those he supervises. "I’ll only be successful if they’re successful," he said.
"Challenges stimulate me and keep my interest high," he said. "I find a challenge in everything I do." He called paperwork the dull part of his job and says his greatest disappointment was not being able to convince the AgCenter administration to acquire more land to put the Red River Station even closer to the Red River. The station is the closest to the Red (one mile) of all land-grant research facilities in four states.
"I think his influence will be a positive part of the northwest region for at least as long as any of us are around," said Randy Sanderlin, plant pathologist at the Pecan Station. "He has always shown a willingness to try different things to help the local agricultural economy."
McBride initiated a commercial vegetable program in 1991 at the Red River Station. H.Y. Hanna, a tomato researcher, transferred to the Red River Station from the AgCenter’s Citrus Research Station in Port Sulphur, and together they started the greenhouse tomato program in 1996. Hanna’s current research is directed toward production systems and the evaluation of greenhouse tomato varieties.
In McBride’s spare time, he enjoyed community activities and served as president of the Downtown Shreveport Optimist Club in 1986-87. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Research Center Administrators Society in the early 1980s, serving as president in 1987.
McBride won’t drift far from his former workplace and activities, remaining in Shreveport with his wife, Brenda.
Despite all his successes during his career, he calls his proudest accomplishment his family. He has two sons, Dr. Jere W. McBride, an associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Center in Galveston, and Brian, a landscape architect and associate with RVK Architects in San Antonio.
McBride says he’ll take care of family business, move into a new house, travel and see his three grandchildren, Will, 9; Reagan, 5; and Michael, 4.
He’ll miss his co-workers but will be available to help any way he can, including the fight to change the route of Interstate 69, which is proposed to run through the Pecan Station.
And he’ll continue to be a customer of the Red River Station’s greenhouse tomatoes.
Mary Ann Van Osdell
(This article was published in the summer 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)