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Norman Farnsworth: A Force of Nature

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If you never had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Norman Farnsworth, you surely missed out. The longtime botanical researcher from the University of Illinois at Chicago could really captivate an audience, even when the subject matter was very technical data on black cohosh research.  Farnsworth, a pharmacognosist and internationally respected expert medicinal plant research, passed away Sunday night at the age of 81. His health had been declining for months, and he suffered from long-term congestive heart failure and type 2 diabetes.  I feel fortunate to have met him and introduced him at a trade show seminar.

Mark Blumenthal—who once called Farnsworth a “force of nature in the research world”—and his staff at the American Botanical Council (ABC) put together an endearing written tribute to Farnsworth that highlights his career and accomplishments, as well as his signature characteristics. A decorated veteran of the Korean War, Farnsworth was also bestowed various honors for his scientific work. He was a mentor to many who became experts, including countless Ph.D. students and industry experts such Dan Fabricant, Ph.D., formerly of the Natural Products Association (NPA) and now director of the Division of Dietary Supplement Programs at FDA.  To Fabricant, Norman was a “mentor,” “hero” and “friend.” To many others in the industry, he was one of a kind. His legacy is his vast body of work and the impact he had on so many lives professionally and personally.

Fabricant said this a huge loss professionally. "I don’t think anyone did as much to advance natural products research as Norm did," he said. Everyone with a Farnsworth story remembers him with a degree of fondness and respect, Fabricant assured, adding Farnsworth made an impression on everyone he met. "Even those who disagreed with him had respect for him," he said, explaining how  Farnsworth worked harder than people realize. "He might have, at times, come across brash and fun-loving, but he was very driven."

On a personal level, Fabricant said Farnsworth influenced him and all the other Ph.D. students tremendously. "He taught us to press hard and ask tough questions," he recalled. "I owe so much to him—he was my advisor, my friend, and many people don’t know that he was a war hero."

Visit ABC online to read their full tribute to Norman Farnsworth.

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