MADISON - Joshua Lowe Posner, professor of agronomy at the University of Wisconsin and an international agricultural expert, died in his home April 3, 2012, of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a disease he battled two years. He was 64.
He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Jill Posner of Madison, daughter, Jessica Posner and son-in-law, Steven Brown, of Washington, D.C., and son, Matthew of Brooklyn, N.Y. He had two five-year old granddaughters, Sophia and Isabelle Posner Brown and three siblings, Prudence, Deborah and David Posner, who reside in the New York area.
Josh was born in New Rochelle, N.Y. His parents, Harold and Ronah Posner, were social activists, dedicated to civil rights and a host of humanitarian causes during their lifetime. Their commitment to others and to family, as well as their humor and graciousness, had a profound effect on Josh’s character and on his life.
Josh’s international work was focused on improving crop production in poor resource environments, particularly in Africa and Latin America. In Wisconsin, he sought to improve land tenureship with low-input cropping systems. His interest in agriculture was initiated while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in a school gardening program. He left a functioning “lab” school in place and almost 50 schools producing vegetables and poultry for the school lunch program at the end of his term. Josh learned from this early experience that he loved working outside, talking to farmers, and trying to find solutions to the enormous challenge of poverty alleviation.
Josh completed his undergraduate studies at Amherst College in Massachusetts. After Peace Corps, he and wife Jill sought graduate degrees at Cornell University. Josh obtained a master's and Ph.D. there in agronomy. Their first international adventure as a married couple was in Honduras working directly for the Ministry of Agriculture. Their daughter, Jessica, was born there in 1979. After a brief interlude in New York as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, Josh and the family returned to West Africa and spent the better part of the 1980s in what was then the Senegambia. Their son, Matthew, was born in Senegal in 1983.
Josh was hired by the UW in 1986 to participate in a research project in Banjul, Gambia and arrived in Madison in 1988. His pioneering work on the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems trial is a 20-year research trial, one of his most important domestic legacies. The research has involved many of his students and colleagues, on and off campus and has examined a large number of issues related to low input (organic) agriculture in the Midwest.
In 1993, Josh began a long involvement with Andean agriculture and the family moved first to Bolivia and then to Peru in 1998. In Bolivia, he led another interdisciplinary Wisconsin team in a research and development program at the Bolivian Agricultural Research Institute. In Peru, he worked for the International Potato Institute (CIP) and was responsible for strengthening a fledgling consortium for Sustainable Development in the Andes (CONDESAN) that now includes more than 70 organizations from all seven Andean countries. His most recent international work was as the principal investigator of a National Science Foundation training grant to support University of Wisconsin graduate students to learn Chinese and conduct their dissertations in Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods in Yunnan Province.
Josh’s academic accomplishments were impressive but more than these was his unique ability to connect with people. An old friend of Josh’s as a child recently wrote: “He was the kind of kid, other kids could never get enough of.” This has been true of him all his life. His warmth, humor and kindness were obvious to everyone from professors to janitors. He never made distinctions based on class or education. His interactions with people were grounded in equality and social justice. These were the core of his moral fabric and he used humor, passion and his wonderful ability to tell a good story to connect with people from all walks of life and very divergent cultures on an equal footing. He was a dedicated husband, father, grandfather, friend and teacher. He embraced life and he lived it to the fullest. One of his last utterances to a childhood friend was: “I am running on empty, but I am in love.”
A service will be held in his honor on Friday, April 27, 2012, at the TRIPP COMMONS at the UW MEMORIAL UNION at 3 p.m. It is open to the public. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Childhood Braintumor Foundation http://www.childhoodbraintumor.org/. Additional stories, memories and photos of Josh, can be accessed at: http://jposner.tumblr.com.