Agricultural Communications Documentation Center

Francis C. Byrnes

Francis C. Byrnes

Francis C. Byrnes, communication scientist and agricultural training, communication, and management consultant, died of liver cancer at his home in Reston, Virginia on July 5, 1999. Although his roots were on an Iowa farm, his professional career over 60+ years took him to nearly as many countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, where he applied communication as a behavioral science to agricultural research, extension, education, and development programs implemented by various development assistance organizations.

Born in Vail, Iowa on July 24, 1917, Byrnes' early career spanned roles as an editor for a community newspaper in Iowa; a government agricultural information specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; an officer in charge of technical communication assignments at high levels for the U.S. Signal Corps and U.S. Air Force; an agricultural editor and correspondence course director at the Ohio State University and Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station; and deputy director of the National Project in Agricultural Communication at Michigan State University.

In 1963, he joined the Rockefeller Foundation field staff, and served 20 years in communication positions with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines; the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia; and the International Agricultural Development Service, New York, and Arlington, VA. In the 1960s and 70s, his "train-the-trainer" approach to agricultural technology transfer played a catalytic role in accelerating dissemination throughout Asia and Latin America of improved crop varieties such as the so-called high-yielding "miracle rice" varieties developed by the "green revolution" scientists of IRRI, CIAT, and other agricultural research organizations.

In 1965, his doctoral dissertation was published by Frederick A. Praeger under the title "Americans in Technical Assistance: A Study of Attitudes and Responses to Their Roles Abroad." In 1966, the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science published "Role Shock: An Occupational Hazard of American Technical Assistants Abroad" in which Byrnes proposed "role shock" as a sociological phenomenon distinct from "culture shock." In 1979, the Society for Applied Anthropology elected Byrnes as a Fellow for his cross-cultural research contributions such as his "Assignment to Ambiguity" article published in Human Organization in 1964.

Over the years Byrnes authored numerous reports to reach a broader audience with information on how agricultural research and development programs are positively impacting on low-income communities in the developing world. These reports immediately engaged the reader with titles such as "Changing the Change Agent," "No Turning Back: Small Steps Lead Filipino Farmers Toward Self Reliance and Increased Income," "In Mindanao's Uplands: Minds Win Over Matter," and "When Villagers Take Charge."

Following retirement from the foundation in 1983, he was a consultant to many international organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations Development Programme, the Asian Development Bank, the Management Training and Development Institute, and several international agricultural research centers such as the International Potato Center, Peru; the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico; and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria. Over the past decade, the bulk of his consulting work had been for the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development, Arlington, Virginia.

Byrnes' numerous recognitions include two major Iowa State University awards - the Henry A. Wallace Award for Outstanding Contribution in Writing, Teaching, Research, and Leadership, and the J.W. Schwartz Award for Distinguished Service to Journalism. He received the Outstanding Alumnus in Communication Award from Michigan State University; the Award for Excellence in International Affairs from the Agricultural Communicators in Education, the Special Service Award from the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development; and the Outstanding Service Award from the Association for International Agricultural Education and Extension. He was an Honorary Founder of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia.

Born in Vail, Iowa, Byrnes received a B.S. in agricultural and technical journalism in 1938 from Iowa State University, and a Ph.D. in communication arts as a behavioral science in 1963 from Michigan State University. His wife, Ethel Belle (Overholt) Byrnes, died in 1984. Survivors include a daughter, Kathryn Stephens of Lovettsville, Virginia; two sons, Kevin of Richmond, Virginia, and Kerry of Reston, Virginia; three grandchildren; and a brother (Ray Byrnes, Des Moines, Iowa) and a sister (Betty Consbruck, Gainesville, Florida). All of his children and their spouses were at his bedside at the moment of his passing.

At the time of his death, he was a parishioner of St. John Neumann Parish, Reston, Virginia. As a Senior Associate of the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development, he was within two hours of completing his last assignment, a publication on African women in agriculture, when he took ill on June 8 and was rushed to the hospital. To the end, his professional career mirrored his personal philosophy: "When others face adversity, we must never quit trying to help them." Byrnes "never quit trying to help" others until, with his last breath, the Lord called him home.

The Byrnes Memorial Collection at the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center has nearly 800 documents about planning, producing, and managing communication and training programs in agricultural research, extension, education, and development. You are likely to benefit from this collection whenever you search the ACDC collection using subject terms such as:

The Byrnes Collection includes these documents written by Francis C. Byrnes. It also includes documents collected by Francis C. Byrnes and donated to the Center by his family.

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