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Rudolph Richard Willing (1915–1989)

by Lindsay Pryor

Rudolph Richard Willing was born in Gotha, Germany, in 1915. The major disruption of World War II led to his migrating with his family to Australia at the end of 1954.

Rudolph Willing was a born plantsman. His career in working with plants had a start in Germany in 1931 when, because of the worldwide economic depression, instead of attending the Gymnasium Ernestinum Gotha, he was obliged to move into practical farming through the Agricultural School of Gotha for the next three years.

His enthusiasm was noted and, after more farming experience, he was awarded a place at the Bayerische Landessaatzuchtanstalt Weihenstephan/Freising, where he spent 1937 and 1938.

He was first involved after that in barley, winter wheat and potato breeding before the war and until 1941. In postwar West Germany, to which he returned in 1945 after being a POW in the United States, he found a post in vegetable seed breeding in Erfurt and was to move in 1952 to the Hanseatische Pflanzenzuchtung Wulfsdorf, where he worked with strawberries and other fruits.

He had consummate skill in raising and manipulating plants, especially for breeding and in whole plant physiological studies. This was complemented by a keen and inquiring mind, so that he was able to advance various studies significantly in a productive research period of some 35 years.

He reached Canberra in 1955 and, after a pause, he joined the Parks and Gardens Section of the then Department of the Interior in 1956, working on the developmental program there, especially with native plants. He moved later, in 1959, to the newly-created Department of Botany in the Faculty of Science of the Canberra University College, which was to become soon in 1960 part of the Australian National University.

Rudolf Willing worked with various members of the staff of the Botany Department and other departments of the Faculty of Science in field relating to plant growth regulators in eucalypts and their vegetative propagation and breeding. He was the co-author of a considerable number of scientific papers on these and other subjects relating to projects on which he worked and his superb technical expertise made possible numerous experiments which otherwise would have remained untouched.

He also became intensely involved in a breeding and developmental program in poplar, which involved precise study of pollination and incompatibility mechanisms in the genus, which led to his developing the means of crossing pairs of species belonging to different sections of the genus, especially the white and black poplars which in nature are incompatible and do not hybridise.

To all of this he brought the same flair in developing experimental material and also the keen insight necessary to the success of the experiments.

His work was recognised by the University with the award of the degree of Master of Science (Honoris Causa) in 1981.

He retired from the University in 1980 and moved to a small farm near Yass, where he established facilities to continue his experimental work in conjunction with producing plant nursery stock. He continued this while his health permitted until 1987 and also gave some specialist lectures in the Department of Forestry of the Australian National University until 1985. He died suddenly on 21 June 1989.

He is survived by his wife, Eva, daughter Imme and sons, Chris and Dietrich and five grandchildren.

Original publication

Citation details

Lindsay Pryor, 'Willing, Rudolph Richard (1915–1989)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 March, 1915
Gotha, Germany


21 June, 1989 (aged 74)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.