Norman R. Farnsworth (1930-2011) – In Memoriam

This page is dedicated to the memory and contributions of Norman R. Farnsworth, co-founder of the American Society of Pharmacognosy, mentor, colleague and friend to many in the natural products community.


Norman Farnsworth was a towering figure in pharmacognosy from the 1960’s to the present. Almost single-handedly, he established the Department of Pharmacognosy and Pharmacology (as it then was) at the University of Illinois, Chicago, as the preeminent place for pharmacognosy research in the USA. Although I never had the privilege of working with him, I regarded him as a scientific model, and I sought to emulate him in my research. He was also very generous to me, and wrote a letter of support for my tenure at Virginia Tech in the early 1970’s and also, I believe, for my promotion to Full Professor a few years later. More recently I appreciated his wisdom and common sense as we met during the Annual ASP meetings to discuss the question of future Fellows of the ASP. He was also strongly committed to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and Dr. Josephine Briggs, the Director of NCCAM, paid a well-deserved tribute to him at a recent meeting of the NCCAM Advisory Council on October 15th. I am writing this from Ouro Preto, Brazil, at the 3rd Brazilian Conference on Natural Products, and both Lars Bohlin and I paid tribute to Norman in our lectures.  — David Kingston, Virginia Tech

Dr. Farnsworth has been my mentor, a hero, and a friend. I had collaborated with him on a project to produce monographs on herbal medicines for the WHO and also at commission meetings for US Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act labeling. Dr. Farnsworth was the FreeLife International®’s Scientific Advisory Board Chairman since 2007. He collaborated with me on FreeLife research and presented “Botanical Characteristics, Chemical Constituents, and Clinical Relevance of Lycium barbarum (goji)” at the 7th Joint Meeting of German, French, American, European, and Italian botanical science societies in Athens, Greece in 2008. Recently, Dr. Farnsworth and I published a comprehensive scientific goji review paper in Food Research International, based on our thorough investigation of goji research papers in scientific literature. Dr. Farnsworth also suggested many constructive directions for FreeLife’s goji research and product development. He has launched a thousand careers, including my own. For that I will be eternally thankful. — Haru Amagase, PhD, FreeLife International

There won’t be anyone with the wisdom, mastermind, and vision that Dr. Fransworth epitomized. His contribution to the natural products field will never be matched. God bless.  —  Mario Figueroa, UNCG

Rest in Peace!  —  Yue Huang, College of Medicine, UIC

Dr. Farnsworth, as a great mentor, will always be missed throughout my life!  — Linlin Dong, University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Pharmacy

Norm was a scholar and gentleman who saw good in everyone.  —  Muraleedharan G. Nair, Michigan State University

I had not the opportunity to know personally Prof. Farnsworth, but through colleagues and friends at Costa Rica University, and Latin America, during my frequent traveling to meet with people working to unveil new valued pharmacological molecules from plants. In every spot men and women, working with plants and their active compounds, the name of Norman Farnsworth was recalled with praise and recognition. His life, dedicated to the study and progress of Pharmacognosy, marks the path to follow in the years to come. We all feel the departure of Norman is a challenge for those of us that admired him. His teaching, research and field work is a piece of collection for all natural products researchers around the world. We will keep at hand his conspicuous respect for colleagues and friends.  —  Ronald Chaves C., Member AAPH, International Ethnobotany Symposio

Prof. Farnsworth was an inspiring role model and dedicated chemist. His memory will forever endure as the great man who did things his way and had a great time doing it. He will always be remembered passionately by those who truly knew him and honorably by those he challenged.  —  Andrew Lamm, University of Technology

I thank you for all the kindnesses, laughter, and precepts you gave me.  —  Shinji Funayama, PhD, Nihon Pharmaceutical University

Research is the way to make light where there is only darkness.
Prof. Farnsworth will be forever in our heart.
A prayer to let the light of God brighten his way.  — Dr. Caviggioli Paride, Italy

Norman was a great, kind, and smart guy.  — David Y. Lee, Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital

The soul of pharmacognosy is celebrated in Norman Farnsworth. What a dynamic speaker, brilliant and insightful intellect, and truly wonderful plant enthusiast! Let’s hope he planted some seeds in fertile ground for the future of the field. —  Evangeline Lausier, MD, Duke University (Duke Integrative Medicine)(URI ’75)

Dr. Farnsworth was a great mentor. I can explain clearly what pharmacognosy is after taking his class, and I will never forget it.  — Shunyan Mo, University of Illinois at Chicago

It was with a tremendous sadness and heavy heart that I learned about the passing of Prof. Norman Fanrsworth. As many of the accolades accorded to him have articulated so elegantly, he was a unique and compassionate human being, not to mention his inspiring scientific mind. I witnessed these qualties of his when I was a graduate student at UIC College of Pharmacy, Department of P’Cog and Med Chem, during 1986-1991. I will only reminesce two personal flashbacks. I was on a WHO scholarship when I started the graduate program. The scholarship ran only 2 and 1/2 years, at the end of which I was supposed to wrap it up and receive a Master’s degree. Norm graciously stepped in and secured me a scholarship from the Organization of African Unity to complete a Ph.D. For that, I was eternally grateful to him. On another personal side of him, during our toiling years in the labs he would suddenly show up and whisk us out to lunch at his expense. That was a special gesture nobody else would do, but only the departed Norm. May his special soul rest in peace!
With fond memories.  — Fekadu Fullas, St. Lukes Regional Medical Center, Sioux City, IA

I didn’t have the honor to know Norman personally, but I reviewed his publications in natural products; they were of great importance and use. His loss is a sorrow for all of us, but his fingerprints will remain and be remembered always in the field of natural products and structure elucidation.
May He rest in Peace.  —  Mohammed Nawzad Sabir, School of Pharmacy/ Sulaimani University

Dr. Norman Farnsworth didn’t just live, but imparted knowledge into generations  – present and future ones.  I will miss him, but he lives in most of us by the inventions/knowledge he left behind, which we read often.
HE LIVES ON!  —  Alaribe Stephenie Chinwendum, Dept of Pharm. Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy,University of Lagos, Nigeria

Though I did not know Prof. Farnsworth personally, I had the privilege of attending several ASP meetings where everyone felt the presence of this “giant” of a pharmacognosist. We also were entertained by him at the Award dinners. As someone who has been interested in herbal supplements, I appreciate Prof. Farnsworth’s contributions in the development and implementation, and subsequent improvement of the provisions of DSHEA. Prof. Farnsworth’s contributions to the field of natural products and herbals are unparalleled, and the nation (and the world) owes a debt of gratitutde to him.  — Dr. Mel Govindan, Fitchburg State University and MIT

It is very sad news, as no one can forget Norman Farnsworth after meeting him. He was a great and fine personality with a lot of humor. I regret not to have sent to him personally the picture I took in Athens 2008 during the 7th joint meeting of pharmacognosy. I will inform AFERP, where many are still despaired since the sudden death of Prof Tillequin in last February. Please receive from myself and in name of AFERP our profound and sincere support, thanking you to transmit to your collaborators, ASP and his relatives our sincere and friendly regards. — Joel Boustie, Rennes, France, in name of AFERP (French Speaking Society of Pharmacognosy)

© American Society of Pharmacognosy, 2011