Webb, Ralph E.
Ralph was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 15, 1941, and was raised in a rural part of Maryland called Howard County. The family home was a converted log cabin with the chestnut logs still in the bottom story. Ralph was pre-Columbian. How green was his county. Many the summer day was spent in the woods, when not spent weeding the family strawberry patches or doing other chores. Nature was as close as the family well, in which dwelt a nest of copperheads. He didn’t bother them, they didn’t bother him. For better or worse, Howard County became covered by a new city, Columbia, well planned in a sterile sort of way. Ralph often wondered what became of his pet copperheads. After a quite decent education in a Howard County public school system renowned in those days for strict discipline, Ralph set off for the University of Maryland, where, after sampling a variety of majors, he received his BS degree in botany in 1964 mentored by the late Dr. Russell Brown. That year was notable for three other reasons; first, his marriage to June McArthur; second, his acceptance into the plant pathology graduate program at Maryland; and third, his employment as a temporary summer student worker at Beltsville by the entomologist Dr. Floyd Smith. Ralph and Floyd really hit it off. Ralph was quickly made permanent, changed his major at Maryland to entomology, and quickly rose through the ranks as he obtained his MS degree in 1967 and his PhD degree in 1972. Ralph joined the Agricultural Research Service in 1964, and as of April, 2004, had written or co-written 181 publications (99 refereed) exclusive of abstracts. Early work was on host/insect interactions and pest management of aphids, leafminers, and whiteflies on vegetable, florist, and nursery crops. In 1975, Ralph was designated coordinator for the Service gypsy moth research, while continuing research on pests of florist and nursery crops. He joined the Insect Chemical Ecology Laboratory in 1987 with a one hundred percent assignment to gypsy moth research. Ralph joined the Insect Biocontrol Laboratory in 1990 and developed strategies to mitigate losses due to gypsy moth in non-forest settings and assembled technology into control systems. This included work elucidating several key steps leading to the successful use of disparlure (the sex attractant of the gypsy moth) for male trapping and mating disruption. He focused on cooperating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service developing the nuclear polyhedrosis virus of the gypsy moth into a cost-effective, species-specific, environmentally-benign control agent. Ralph joined the Chemicals Affecting Insect Behavior Laboratory in 2001, with a fifty percent assignment on gypsy moth and other shade tree insects and a fifty percent assignment to mosquito research. The mosquito research was conducted in cooperation with fellow Washington Biologists’ Field Club member Beth Norden. Ralph is fortunate to have a career that was so much fun. Work involved field research, usually in lovely locations in forests, mountains, and swamps in a number of states. His study sites have varied from individual trees to many thousands of hectares. One project involved the aerial application of gypsy moth pheromone to disrupt mating to a 30,000 hectare area in Cecil County, Maryland. Many studies have been conducted in lovely Garrett County, Maryland, and in the Shenandoah Valley and the surrounding mountains, including a three year study along Skyline Drive. And they pay him for this! Ralph’s marriage to June resulted in son Matthew and daughter Helen. Matt is a steamfitter who also teaches computer science to apprentices at the Steamfitter Union School. Matt is married with one beautiful daughter. Helen earned a BS degree in math from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a PhD degree in marine geophysics in a joint program with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She is married and currently is raising two beautiful preschool daughters while keeping her hand in science part-time as an engineer developing satellite data code. Ralph was elected into membership in 2004.