Tribute: WGA’s Hank Giclas dies much too soon
Henry Lee Giclas III, who retired two years ago after a career of unflinching devotion to the betterment of the produce industry, died on Friday, Aug. 5, after a short battle with cancer.
Mr. Giclas, who spent the entirety of his produce industry career with Western Growers, was born in Socorro, NM, in 1959 and retired in 2020 in nearby Albuquerque. In between, he lived an adventurous life that took him around the world and through several professions.
He was well known in the produce industry where he worked for Western Growers for 30 years, with much of the career being at the forefront of the food-safety arena, helping to establish protocols that made the fruit and vegetable industry better and the food supply safer.
"Hank Giclas dedicated himself, totally and fully, in service to the people of the fresh produce industry. His career was an unabashed love affair with agriculture, second only to his dedication and devotion to the love of his life, Kathy, and their two children,” said Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers. “We have a saying in our organization, that someone especially enamored with and dedicated to the people of our industry ‘bleeds Western Growers green.’ Hank probably coined that saying but whether he did or not, no one will ever embody its spirit more fully.”
He went on to say, “Our industry is immeasurably better for Hank’s vision and leadership. Few in our industry labored as long and hard as Hank to produce scientifically valid food-safety guidance.”
Two former Western Growers executives also spoke very highly of Mr. Giclas. Jasper Hempel who was responsible for bringing Mr. Giclas into the association, recalls that decision with pride. “I fondly remember when I first saw him walking up to the Phoenix office. Without knowing anything about him or even having met him, I said to myself, this is the guy I’m going to hire. He was clearly a brainiac! Nice, smart, forward thinking, very, very humble. Kathy, Hanna, Hank IV and the world will sorely miss him.”
Former Western Growers Executive Vice President Matt McInerney said Mr. Giclas was a big man both in stature (6’6”) and service to the industry. “I used to call him my favorite power forward. He made Western Growers and the produce industry a better place. I have always thought that Hank was one of the smartest guys I ever worked with. He was a humble guy who was always looking for ways for the industry to improve itself.”
McInerney said Mr. Giclas’ was deeply involved in almost every food-safety initiative in the industry, but his accomplishments went well beyond that. “He had a unique skill set. There was no one better at framing very complex and controversial issues into simple terms. And these weren’t simple issues.”
Mr. Giclas began his working career on the family farm, spent his 20s in the oil, gas and mineral exploration world, and then turned his attention toward teaching vocational agriculture before coming to Western Growers in 1990 as a policy advocate in the association’s Phoenix office.
His intellect came naturally as his mother received her PhD in molecular biology and his father was a mechanical engineer. Mr. Giclas loved the outdoors and loved agriculture. When he was 16, he bargained with his parents to allow him to move to Buckeye, AZ, and work on the family farm. “My job was to burn weeds, set irrigation pipe and do other odd job,” he once said. “I fell in love with desert agriculture.”
He went to the University of Arizona and pursued a degree in what was called soil, water and engineering. After his sophomore year, he took a break and began working for an international company in oil, gas and mineral exploration. A couple of years ago he recalled that exciting job with fondness. “I was running crews all over the world, in charge of people twice my age. I worked in Alaska on a project and then lived in Australia for a couple of years working on another project.”
In the late 1980s, Mr. Giclas returned to the University of Arizona and received his degree in agricultural education. He began teaching but was looking for a more lucrative career when he applied for that position with Western Growers. In Phoenix, he worked as an advocate lobbying the Arizona legislature, but also formed a close working relationship with regulators securing emergency specialty crop use permits for pesticides. He once recalled that one of his early assignments dealt with finding relief from the whitefly, which was devastating the vegetable crops in the Southwest. He immersed himself in the world of pesticide regulations and was able to secure a Section 18 emergency registration for a new pesticide, which turned out to be the silver bullet.
In the early 2000s, Mr. Giclas spent time in WG’s California government affairs office, but eventually he moved to the headquarters office in Irvine where he found his niche as the vice president of strategic planning, science and technology. While he kept that title for the rest of his career, the job changed and expanded significantly over the years.
He once said, “The beauty of my position is that all kinds of issues landed in science and technology. As humbly as I can state this, people trusted me with a lot of significant issues. Maybe it is because of my cool and calm demeanor but the science and tech department was able to deal with a lot of very important issues over the years.”
Food safety became a focal point of his career after the spinach crisis of 2006. Cadmium and perchlorate were two areas of concern for many years. When Western Growers jumped into the technology world to help find solutions for some of the industry’s most vexing problems, again Mr. Giclas was given the lead role.
Mr. Giclas is survived by his wife, Kathleen, as well as his daughter, Hannah, and his son, Henry Giclas IV.