Dr. Ralph Heal (1907-1982), this year’s posthumous Hall of Fame inductee, used his experience as an entomologist to lead pest management professionals during a time when respect between the two professions was not where it is today.
Heal lent professionalism, experience and high standards to the industry, especially during his 23-year tenure with the then-National Pest Control Association as technical director, then executive director. He grew the young association, helped its members gain respect, and defended them as government regulation increased.
Throughout his life, Heal was a professional and personal mentor to PMPs who valued his strong character, leadership and commitment to excellence.
A Promising Entomologist
Ralph Edward Heal was born in 1907 in Corienna, Ontario, Canada, where he attended a one-room country school. He went on to attend London Normal School in Ontario, and earn his bachelor’s degrees in entomology and zoology from Ontario Agriculture College in 1934.
The following year, Heal came to Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he earned his master’s degree. For the next several years, Heal participated in industrial research fellowships at Rutgers, working with Monsanto Chemical Co., Bristol-Myers Co. and Merck & Co.
After earning his Ph.D. in entomology in 1942, Heal went to work for Merck & Co., Rahway, NJ, where he served as senior entomologist and head of the entomology laboratory of Merck’s Research and Development Division until 1949.
Clearly, Heal was interested in the scientific study of insect pests. In October 1942, he published his first contribution to the industry, a paper on carpet beetle and clothes moth control in Pests (today known as Pest Control magazine). At Merck, Heal did pesticide research and development on wetting agents in pesticide formulations, insect repellents, louse control studies and botanical pesticides.
Despite his early reputation as a top researcher, change was on Heal’s horizon. When Merck cut funding to its research programs in 1949, he made the jump from pure research to practical application — he came to the national association as its first technical director.
Heal’s 1949 resume, probably the same one that fellow Hall of Famer and then-NPCA Executive Director Bill Buettner saw when he considered bringing Heal into his organization, reads like a research entomologist’s should: It lists degrees and experience with top chemical companies.
But it was most likely Heal’s technical work with pesticide formulation and testing that made him an ideal candidate for increasing the professionalism of the then-16-year-old NPCA.
Heal was 42 and had a wife and two young sons when he came to the NPCA. Early on, he worked with George Hockenyos on a technical sheet for termite control. This paper, “Reference Procedures for Subterranean Termite Control,” eventually gained acceptance by the Building Research Advisory Board, US Forest Service and USDA.
Dr. Doug Mampe, a 2003 Hall of Fame inductee, was a young NPCA staff member during Heal’s tenure, and spoke of Heal’s influence in a 1983 industry newsletter: “Ralph taught me two things by his example. One was integrity, and the other was to research something thoroughly and have all your facts marshaled before making a decision. When he made a decision, he had every reason he could think of, and, as a result, he wasn’t wrong very often.”
Accessibility and accountability were important to Heal. He wanted the NPCA to set technical foundations and practical guidelines for its members to rely upon. Likewise, he demanded respect from entomologists and government agencies.
PMPs could call Heal any time with a technical question, and he would point them to the corresponding technical sheet that addressed it. For four years, Heal grew the technical reputation of the association and its members.
When Bill Buettner died in 1953, the torch was passed to Heal, even though some members worried about a professional entomologist controlling their organization. The transition had its rocky patches.
Most notably, Heal declared from the start that all members would pay equal dues, including those who were paying less under Buettner’s reign. The equal dues policy made some members quit, but most stayed, and during his tenure, Heal increased membership from a few hundred to more than 850 companies.
Industry Consultant Jim Steckel was NPCA president from 1970 to 1971. He worked with Heal on NPCA’s executive board for seven years and considered him a friend as well as colleague.
“Ralph was a pretty patient mentor with a pretty impatient trainee,” Steckel told Pest Control in 1982, on the occasion of Heal’s death. Steckel admired Heal’s up-front attitude, and continued to ask for his advice throughout Heal’s life.
Heal’s demeanor served him well as the government tightened regulations near the end of his NPCA tenure. The 1960s brought more regulations, culminating in the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was now under the EPA’s control, and the move toward more regulation was under way.
The government was a tough obstacle. Heal fought the EPA when it wanted to classify pesticide applicators as pesticide salesmen, and he fought them again when they wanted to require college degrees for certified applicators.
Mampe told Pest Control in 1982 that Heal “gave the government the message that the industry was legitimate and not fly-by-night.”
Heal believed the industry could regulate itself, and if the EPA planned to set regulations, he wanted to be front and center, giving input. In fact, Steckel and Heal traveled to Washington together in 1970 to participate in hearings with the EPA on the regulation and enforcement of FIFRA. Heal’s strong support of his members gave them credibility and confidence to assert a proactive relationship with the government.
Heal was involved in many industry organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council on Protection Against Decay and Termites in Residential Construction, the American Chemical Society, the Entomological Society of America, Sigma Xi and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. During his tenure at NPCA, He established a research fund for universities, and he began to develop the association’s slide/tape training programs.
Heal retired from the NPCA in 1972 and consulted part time on residential and commercial pest control. He and his wife Florence, also now deceased, lived on the Maryland shore, where Heal indulged his sailing and hiking hobbies until his death from cancer in 1982.
“Whatever Heal did, it was for the industry,” Mampe said at the time of Heal’s death. “He believed in the industry.”