Dr. Maria Nemeth, who was the founder of fruit tree virus research in Hungary, passed away on 9th February 2011 after a long and rich life. After World War II her life was full of difficulties and struggles, but she always counted the many blessings that helped her to overcome them and to achieve outstanding scientific results, which were acknowledged both nationally and internationally.
She graduated from the Horticultural University of Budapest in 1952, subsequently becoming Doctor of Horticultural Sciences in 1972 and receiving a Doctor of Sciences degree from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1992.
She had two workplaces, both in Budapest: the Research Institute of Horticulture (1952-1972) and the Plant Protection Centre and its successors (1972-1986). After retirement she continued her activities as a scientific consultant at the same place until 2004. She kept in contact with her co-workers until the very last days.
At the Research Institute of Horticulture she started to work as a plant pathologist. In this period, Plum pox virus was established and spread rapidly in the stone fruit orchards of Hungary. The severe crop losses turned her attention to this disease and in 1958 fruit tree virology became her official research topic. She developed biological indexing methods using new herbaceous and woody indicators for detection and differentiation of fruit tree viruses. In the early 1960s she began virus testing of several thousand mother trees of pome fruit and stone fruit species. This activity resulted in the identification and description of fruit tree viruses in Hungary. Internationally she was the first to describe PPV in peach in 1964. Her testing work significantly contributed also to the establishment in 1968 of the central nuclear stock system for fruit tree propagation.
In 1972 applied fruit virus research was transferred to the Plant Protection Centre where, in addition to her active research programme, she also developed the National Certification Scheme for the Production of Virus-free Propagating Material. Several decades of her and her colleagues’ activities resulted in the establishment of the certification scheme, with the founding of the official labelling programme in 1994.
She published three books (1961, 1979 and 1986) taking the international literature of the fruit tree virus research of that time and combining it with the Hungarian results. Her third book of more than 800 pages, containing 2167 references, written in English and entitled ”Virus, Mycoplasma and Rickettsia Diseases of Fruit Trees”, was often referred to by virologists as the “blue bible” and became a popular handbook worldwide. In addition, she was co-author of 11 other books (1960-2006). Her results were published in more than 150 scientific articles. Her last two English language publications appeared in 2010, in one of which she was the first author.
After becoming a member of the ISHS International Committee for Cooperation in Fruit Tree Virus Research in 1965, Mária Németh was elected member of its Scientific Committee in 1976 and, in 1979, she organized the XIth International Symposium on Fruit Tree Viruses in Budapest. She joined the ISHS International Sharka Virus Working Group in 1972 and was the president between 1985 and 2006. She also participated in the activities of the EPPO Panel on Certification of Fruit Crops (1967 and 1986).
Her outstanding achievements were acknowledged both nationally and internationally. In Hungary she received the ’PRO SCIENTIA’ golden medal (1989) for her activities in education, and the Szechenyi prize (1992) and ’Horvath Geza’ Medallion (2002) for her lifetime’s achievements. She became an honourable member of the Consulat de la Vinnée de Bergerac (1985) and of the General Assembly of the Society of Agriculture, Forestry and Dietetics of the Slovakian Academy of Sciences (1989). In 1997 she was awarded the Peter Posnette award for her lifetime’s achievements.
We keep her kind personality and her ‘blue bible’ in our memories and will continue her work.