Dr Robb Gowe was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, Canada. He graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College, now the University of Guelph, and Cornell University, where he earned a PhD degree in animal genetics in 1949. A brilliant student, he won many awards throughout his academic career.
Dr Gowe joined the Experimental Farm Services of Canada Department of Agriculture, now called Agriculture Canada, in 1949 as head of the Poultry Genetics section. When the Poultry and Animal Husbandry divisions and the Animal Biochemistry Sections were amalgamated into the Animal Research Institute in 1959, Dr Gowe was appointed chief of the Animal Genetics section. In 1965 he was made director of the Institute, now called the Animal Research Centre, a post which he continued to hold until his retirement in 1986. In 1958-59 Dr Gowe spent one year as a visiting scientist at the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In 1949, Dr Gowe initiated his controlled selection experiments in egg producing poultry. This research involved several large populations which were selected for multiple objectives and, of great scientific significance, several unselected, random-bred control strains. This was the first selection study in poultry to utilize genetically-stable control populations to measure changes in the environment and, thereby, allow genetic changes in selected lines to be precisely assessed. These poultry populations, and a number of new derivatives from them, are still maintained at the Centre. Both the selected and control lines have been widely used by scientists at the Centre, and a variety of other Canadian and international institutions, in experiments where their specific characteristics were of great value. Genetic material from these populations has also been provided to Canadian primary breeders. The long-term selection study has been acknowledged as one of the best designed experiments in the field of egg laying research. During his visit to the Institute of Animal Genetics, Dr Gowe, as senior author, completed two major papers on control strains which he wrote in collaboration with Dr Alan Robertson and others. These papers are still widely quoted 27 years later.
The selected populations, some of them under continuous selection for over 30 years, have conclusively demonstrated the feasibility of simultaneously selecting for improvement of several economically-important, polygenic characters, a scientific result without parallel in animal breeding research. The poultry populations have also made it possible to study a variety of other aspects such as genotype x environment interactions, poultry management, reproduction and disease resistance.
Through his research, Dr Gowe has also introduced to the poultry industry valuable techniques for the efficient use of artificial insemination in large scale commercial breeding operations, a method of quick and easy identification of fertility in unincubated eggs, and procedures for prolonged storage of hatching eggs for large pedigree populations.
As chief of the Animal Genetics Section and later Director of the Animal Research Centre, Dr Gowe played the leading role in developing the resources and programme of the Centre. It is now a unique institution and its poultry research facilities are considered among the larges and most comprehensive in the Western world. In many instances, when poultry and animal research facilities have been amalgamated, resources devoted to poultry were disproportionately reduced. Dr Gowe was able to maintain a strong poultry component within the larger animal research organization, e.g.., 17 of 50 animal buildings are for poultry.
Dr Gowe has authored or co-authored more than 70 scientific papers and several technical articles in the areas of poultry breeding, selection, genotype x environment interactions and a variety of other subjects. Several of these papers are major contributions to the scientific literature and his studies on breeding techniques are among the most definitive in the world.
Throughout his career, Dr Gowe has been a valued consultant to the Canadian and international poultry industries. He is a great teacher, capable of talking to a layman and explaining very complex theory in terms which can be readily understood. This is an unusual characteristic in a person not always known for patience when dealing with his peers. He has spent a lifetime adapting advances in science and technology for immediate application by the poultry industries.
In the past 13 years, he has been invited to present 11 papers at international conferences and symposia, several of which were organized by the US or British poultry breeding industries. In 1980, he presented a major invitational paper to the World's Congress on Sheep and Beef Cattle Breeding in New Zealand on lessons to be learned from poultry breeding.
Despite his heavy scientific and managerial work load, Dr Gowe found time for important community activities. For 15 years he was a member of the Executive Board of Directors for the Queensway-Carleton Hospital in Ottawa. He also served for 10 years on the Ottawa Regional Hospital Planning Council, including a term as Chairman.
Dr Gowe's scientific excellence has been recognized by the Tom Newman Memorial Award for poultry husbandry research in 1960, the Sir John Hammond Memorial Trust Lectureship in England in 1974, and the Public Service of Canada Merit Award in 1980, the highest award of the Canadian Public Service. This last award recognized both his scientific and management contributions to the programme of the Research Branch of Agriculture Canada. In 1984, he was made a fellow of the Poultry Science Association and received the Certificate of Merit from the Canadian Society of Animal Science.
Nominated by Canada