Dr. John M. stonehouse: An englishman who loved India
A pall of gloom descended on all entomologists in India, when the news of Dr. John Stonehouse's sudden demise in Senegal, W. Africa, began to trickle in on the internet in the last week of September 2007. He was just 47 years young!
Picture by the Chief Editor, token at Salvador, Brazil. 2006 with the Atlantic Ocean on the background
A member of the Editorial Advisors of Pest Management in Horticultural Ecosystem, Dr. Stonehouse was more than involved in the editorial processing, giving us his genuine comments, interacting with some authors and also visiting the Navbarath Press to get into the finer nitty-gritties of production. His proactive involvement, saw a special fruit fly edition emerging in 2005, volume II (2) - a first time for this journal to have an exclusive edition on one group of insecta. Such an issue was John's idea, and he volunteered to doubleup as an editor for that issue which came as a big relief to me. It was then that I realized how sharp his editorial acumens were. He in London and I in Bangalore, exchanged pdf versions of the fruit fly manuscripts almost every day. We may have exchanged back and forth at least a dozen times and John made the whole thing seem like a dime a dozen. Oh! To me it was a big learning process of how to use ‘soil’ version via the internet to edit. This ‘learning’ I've been potentially applying to subsequent Pest Managemement in Horticultural Ecosystems editorial processes, especially with authors who are more on-line savvy and enjoy delving into the almost infinite volume of the cyber.
John (as I used to fondly call Dr. Stonehouse) was an entomologist specialized mainly in fruit fly management. His foray into India began with a quest for fruit fly management, especially for the marginal farmers of India under a DFID (Department for International Development) funded programme in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). At the Krishi Bhavan, especially the horticultural division, the staff were quite impressed with John's knowledge, zeal, professionalism and affable disposition. In fact I first heard about John from the then DDG (Horticulture), Dr. R. N. Pal, who had a very high opinion of him, which put me in a comfort zone, when John first began to interact with me. After that I was proposed as the National Project Coordinator for a fruit fly management programme in India as an India-UK venture.
Dr. G. Kalloo, the former DDG (Hort) also had a very high opinion of John and quite true to his expectations, John and the project, could come out in terms of relevant fruit fly IPM, which had desirable component of standardized parapheromone traps, upscaled traditional baits, cultural management etc.
Between 2002 and 2005, John supervised research on fruit flies in 10 centres across India and together with Professor John Mumford brought in the Imperial College London expertise to the whole research.
This project, christened, “Integrated Management of Fruit flies in India (IMFFI)” was quite an experience for me. Working in tandem with John, we brought in an excellent work atmosphere among all the 10 principal investigators, their research fellows, and their Institutions. To facilitate this, five workshops were arranged and what impressed me was the way Dr. Stonehouse and Dr. Mumford were quickly able to break barriers and carry with them the whole team, including fellows. To this end, John with frequent visits to India, helped forge, cement, and cultivate relationships. As the project progressed, we saw these relationships, manifesting in social dimensions, with many of our Indian colleagues inviting John to their house for lunch and dinner. John soon learned to like rotis, alugobis, manchurians, idlis, vadas, etc. He was comfortable with Indian cuisines as much as he was with Indian culture. These too, augured well for the progress of fruit fly research.
The fruit fly project began on a research mode in January 2002 and by mid 2005 all researches were concluded. In October 2005, the group met with their data under the chairmanship of Dr. John Mumford and Dr. S. N. Pandey (ADG-Hort). During this workshop, which was held in Goa (organized by Dr. V. S. Korikanthimath and Dr. R. Faleiro of ICAR Research Complex), I saw John busy with his lap top, lapping up literally all the data on his excel spread sheet. He meant to analyse these, a huge array of numbers and figures from all the centers. After the workshop, when he came to Bangalore, I saw him engrossed in a book whose pages looked rather formidable. Obviously it was a book on statistics! He delved into it and soon the data were being processed. By end November, 2005, John had not only analysed the bulk of the data, but had drawn inferences from these data which metamorphosed to excellent research papers. In other words 32 papers/short notes on IPM of fruit flies in fruit and cucurbits took shape. It was then that John had the bright idea “why not put all these as a special fruit fly issue in the journal Pest Management in Horticultural Ecosystems?”
When I brought this as an agenda to AAPMHE, it was received with positive response and the association approved Dr. John Stonehouse as a special editor (any way he was already an advisor). This issue with 400 journals printed came out in December 2005 itself! This was a major demonstration how John worked. A project within six months of its completion, saw the results seeing the light of the day in print including in a recommendation format.
I am happy to say that the area-wide application of the outcome of IMFFI, is catching up extremely well, High acceptance of the “plywood block traps” introduced by John in India is already popular in Orissa, UP, Gujarat, Andhra, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa etc.
I had, in an editorial on John, in Insect Environment 13(2), suggested that the “plywood block technology” be christened as “Stonehouse's plywood blocks”, I understand, even before I had suggested, Dr. Z. P. Patel of Navsari, Gujarat, had that in mind, and probably has Stonehouse's name on a trap his university proposes to commercialise. It will be a good idea for our IMFFI centers to follow suit as a small gesture of respectful and affectionate memory to the departed soul.
I've learn't a lot from John. One of his greatest assets was his high degree of tolerance and patience. I've, and most of us who teamed with him found that John never lost his temper or got ever angry. He had this uncanny ability to see the lighter side of any goof-ups, overlook errors and get on with the work.
He was meticulous in his planning, efficient in execution, and hardworking. These three qualities saw our fruit fly research in India progressing fruitfully.
A few days prior to his death, a picture of him with a langur up his shoulder, was doing the rounds on the web. John was fond of animals, and it saw him shifting from history (his undergraduate specialization) to biology (mainly Entomology) in which he took masters and doctoral at the Imperial College London. While at Imperial, he spent five years at Colombo for his doctoral programme. Colombo, he told me, was a place where he also learnt to duck muggers! This probably developed in him a spirit of guts and adventure.
I last spoke to him on the phone in August, a month prior to his death. It was the eve of his second trip to Afghanistan. I said, “Why are you going there a second time-dangerous?”
John first seemed to shrug off my comment and said, “Abraham, my life is a big adventure indeed”.
Yes it was an adventure, in a quest to manage dipterans at a global level. John died in harness, while on duty combating the dipterans - the fruit fly in Senegal, West Africa (soon after his return from Afghanistan he was in Senegal). Quite, ironically, the flies seemed to have taken cudgels against him; John died of cerebral malaria, a disease transmitted by dipterans!
John has left a rich legacy of research culture behind and his fruit fly management technologies will be on an high fast-track adoption mode in India, Pakistan, Mauritius, Seychelles, Afganistan, and many African countries for a long time.
At the time of his death, John was a Lecturer at the center for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London. Just not that, John had been into politics too. In 2005, he was a Liberal Democrat agent for the constituency of Whitby (his native home town under Yorkshire). At the time of his death, he was running as one of the short-listed candidates for the London LibDem list for the European Parliament.
John has departed and with him a whole lot of expertise and humour have also gone. We in India, will be missing him for a long long time. The Association of Advancement of Pest Management in Horticultural Ecosystems expresses its deepest condolences to all his relatives and friends. The thought that we will not be seeing his name in the advisors list from the next volume onwards is quite distressing, but we accept the inevitable.