Sort & Cull

Remembering Animal Science Icon Doug Parrett

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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University of Illinois animal scientist Doug Parrett died Aug. 26, at age of 71. (Photo courtesy of University of Illinois)

There is a Fred Rogers quote that sums up my thoughts this week: "The best teacher in the world is someone who loves what he or she does, and just loves it in front of you."

That's pretty much what comes to mind when I think of Doug Parrett. The University of Illinois emeritus professor was a lifelong devotee of the beef business and of teaching others about it. He passed away unexpectedly on Aug. 26. He was 71.

I, and the many others he taught and befriended over the years, called him DP. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the Illinois livestock industry who didn't know Parrett. As a longtime judging team coach, he mentored many. He was a fixture as a judge in showrings. His tireless enthusiasm was infectious.

In the news release from the University of Illinois about his passing, it mentions that he came to the university as a freshman in 1969 and stayed for his master's and doctoral degrees, during which he taught his first classes as a lecturer and graduate teaching assistant. If I'm doing my math correctly, I was likely one of his first students because he taught the beef section of the introductory animal science class that I took as a freshman in 1973.

I distinctly remember the ribbing he dished out when he'd call upon me in class -- always mentioning that I was a "sheep person" and probably had the wool pulled over my eyes about cattle. My father had attended Illinois as an animal science student and served on the department advisory council. It was hard to hide.

Over the past few years, my life has taken me more down the crop row and less inside the livestock arena. But the network in agriculture and livestock is strong and this unfathomable loss is like a slap. The friend you always thought would be there is missing.

Parrett was also an Extension specialist, research collaborator and had served as interim head for the Department of Animal Sciences before retirement. However, he was still showing up for class.

The University of Illinois release stated:

"Known as a "teaching icon" in the department, Parrett inspired countless undergraduates through his 49-year teaching career, including those in the beef production class he was teaching this semester. Not only did he bring his infectious enthusiasm for the subject matter, he invested countless hours getting to know students' individual goals and providing personalized guidance. Parrett's teaching talents won him dozens of national and campus awards, and his dedication to undergraduate education led him to revamp the entire departmental curriculum and create at least five new courses.

"Parrett's appointment as a faculty Extension specialist put him on the front lines of the beef production industry, where he worked with producers to ensure optimal health and productivity of Illinois herds and the success of the people who care for them. Parrett made it his mission to improve beef quality in Illinois through superior genetics and education, creating hands-on programs and user-friendly guides that empowered cattlemen to make positive changes in their management practices.

"As a longtime livestock judging coach, Parrett mentored hundreds of students who went on to become leaders in the animal production industry. A world-renowned judge of purebred and commercial beef cattle, his excellent evaluation skills were recognized by numerous breed associations and animal exhibitions around the globe."

Dan Shike, associate professor in animal sciences and longtime mentee of Parrett's, said: "He always prioritized people and loved to talk -- in classes, office hours, farm visits, producer meetings, fairs, conferences, phone calls, emails, texts, etc. It didn't matter where, how, or who the audience was. It could be a first-semester freshman from the suburbs, a long-time beef cattle producer, or a young livestock enthusiast. Dr. Parrett had a special ability to connect with them, make them feel important, and provide meaningful and impactful advice."

Parrett is survived by his wife Susie, son John, and daughter Annie. The family has requested that memorials be directed to the University of Illinois Foundation for the Dr. Doug Parrett Memorial Fund. Please send to the University of Illinois Foundation, Harker Hall, 1305 W. Green Street, Urbana, IL 61801. Contributions may be provided online at Include the fund name in the "Other" field of the giving form.

Read the original release from the University of Illinois at…

Read the full obituary from Owen's Funeral Home:…

In 2008, the Lincoln Presidential Museum oral history project documented Parrett's history. The written, audio and video interviews can be accessed at…

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN


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