October 24, 1936 – April 5, 2022
Raleigh, North Carolina – Alfred Stratton Elder (“Al”) died on April 5, 2022, with his beloved wife Debbie by his side. He had the opportunity to spend affectionate and meaningful time with his loved ones and he was at peace. We should all be so fortunate. His family is grateful to his physicians at Duke Pulmonary of Raleigh in the treatment of his interstitial lung disease and to the medical professionals at Duke Raleigh Hospital who provided compassionate and dedicated care in his final days.
Al was born on October 24, 1936 in Richmond, Virginia. Al was the youngest of four children born to John Howard Elder and Mildred Stratton Elder. His siblings John Howard Elder, Jr., Mary Elder Pauli, and Helen Elder Wheeler and his former wife Frances predeceased him. He is survived by his wife Debbie Taylor Elder, with whom he shared over 41 years of a happy life filled with love and laughter, his children Connie Elder Carrigan (Tom) and Christopher David Elder (Lisa Taylor), stepsons Douglas Wayne Sorrell (Emily) and Bradley Scott Sorrell, grandchildren Jamison Carrigan (Kristin), Samuel Carrigan (Kelsey Kem), Emylee McIntosh, Cassi Kowa (Kamren), Dylan Sorrell, and Justus Sorrell, and many nieces and nephews.
Al’s early years were spent in Highland Park in Richmond until the end of 4th grade, after which he lived in the Ginter Park neighborhood in Richmond until his graduation from college. He was a proud 1955 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Richmond, received his B.S. degree in biology from Davidson College in 1960, and earned his Master of Plant Pathology degree from North Carolina State University in 1971.
Al served in the United States Army Security Agency in a unit attached to Special Forces from 1960 to 1964. He was stationed at the Fort Ord army base in Monterey, California, during which time his daughter Connie was born, and later at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he received training in the Czech language, learned how to intercept morse coded messages from Cold War countries during the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and trained with Special Forces Field Operations in several states, including the execution of numerous tactical parachute jumps, the accounts of which never ceased to enthrall his children and grandchildren. Al graduated from Special Forces Branch Training as fully qualified for the Green Berets in 1962.
Al had a long and distinguished career as a public servant. From 1964 to 1981, Al was employed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, beginning his career as an entomologist in Goldsboro, North Carolina, during which time his son Chris was born. Al spent the remainder of his state tenure as Director of the Pesticide and Plant Protection Division in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was appointed by the Governor to the NC Pesticide Board and by the Commissioner of Agriculture to the NC Plant Conservation Board. While in state government, Al served in many leadership positions in the Southern Plant Board and the National Plant Board and in professional societies for entomology, plant pathology and nematology.
From 1981 to 2000 Al was employed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in a variety of management and executive positions and locations, including six years in Washington, DC, with an assortment of leadership responsibilities for all national plant health regulatory activities representing the United States worldwide. He spent 13 ½ years at the highest civilian career levels of the Senior Executive Service and was awarded the Presidential Rank Award as Meritorious Executive by President George H.W. Bush for his achievements. Among his diverse awards and honors were the Entomological Society of America’s Outstanding Regulatory Entomologist Award, leadership of the US delegation to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 1998, and a celebratory invitation including an exclusive audience with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1999. He also received a Golden Hammer Award from Vice President Al Gore for his work representing the US Department of Agriculture in Reinventing Government as well as several honor awards for outstanding accomplishments awarded by the US Secretary of Agriculture.
Al’s career with the US Department of Agriculture resulted in frequent moves to positions of higher responsibilities and relocations to California, Maryland, Texas, Mississippi, Virginia, and North Carolina. Al served as the US representative in leadership roles with the North American Plant Protection Organization and in implementation of the revised International Plant Protection Convention. He met frequently with his counterparts from throughout the world in resolving phytosanitary issues to enhance trade in agriculture commodities involving untold value to producers.
As a champion and proponent of cotton boll weevil eradication at both the state and federal levels, Al oversaw the rejuvenation of cotton production in the southeastern United States while simultaneously reducing the use of environmentally damaging and costly pesticides. This resulted in re-establishing cotton as a viable crop after many years. He was also instrumental in numerous similar campaigns against plant pests to remove them as impediments to production and movement to other states and countries in trade. These campaigns also prevented the continued use of costly and environmentally damaging chemicals for control. At both state and federal levels of government Al was an advocate for strongly science-based programs and enhanced professionalism. After his retirement in 2000 he served on several panels of experts reviewing plant and animal protection programs. Al led one such group in reviewing bulb preclearance activities in Israel, the Netherlands, Ireland, Great Britain, and several other areas of western Europe before the group’s efforts were disrupted by the terrorist attacks in 2001.
Despite his numerous awards and accolades, Al would be quick to tell you that he played a “small and insignificant role” in the “grand outcomes” of creating initiatives and strategies for which he was proud. Al looked backward only for the purpose of seeing results and inputs so that he could develop options for moving forward. His natural inclination was toward long-range visionary thinking and his management style was highly collaborative and oriented toward organizational goals that often didn’t fit into established patterns. His empathetic approach to and concern for others and his intellectual curiosity were evident throughout his life, including the bonds he formed with his medical team during his final days.
Throughout his life, Al enjoyed participating in and following sports. At various stages in his life, he was active in football, baseball, cross-country running, and track and field. Al received a number of grant offers to colleges for track and was an outstanding jumper and middle distance runner. Later in life, Al participated in softball and road racing with much success and during his retirement years Al regularly visited the gym and won many awards at county and state levels in Master’s and Senior Games track and field events. He and Debbie were also a force to be reckoned with in cornhole! He and Debbie greatly enjoyed travel and were able to spend time in every state in the United States and much of the world. Extended trips to Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Canada were especially enjoyable, and he welcomed the opportunity to share travel tips, brochures, and recommendations to others.
Al always claimed his sister Helen was the family historian, but he enjoyed nothing better than to take his children on tours of his family’s old haunts in Richmond and Appomattox and to answer our many questions about his life, family history, and the state of the world. He was generous with advice and counsel when asked, but he also recognized the value of enabling us to make up our own minds about decisions in our lives – although there was no better praise than to be told that he was happy with the choices we had made! We treasure our memories of our times together. Although he did his best to prepare and equip us for this new phase in our lives, his absence leaves a huge void that only he can fill.
While Al was generous with his love and praise, he was not fond of being the center of attention. Although from time to time we vetoed his requests not to be fussed over, we generally tried to respect his wishes. Al lived life on his own terms, and he left nothing unsaid regarding his future expectations. He requested that there be no formal memorial service, desiring only that his immediate family celebrate his life with a traditional Irish wake and later scatter his ashes with those of his cherished wife Debbie at their family home in the mountains of North Carolina after her passing, which we hope and trust will be many years in the future. It is a fitting request which provides comfort and solace to those who survive him as he enjoyed family gatherings and the peace and natural beauty of the mountains.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the American Lung Association or to the charity of your choice.
Published by & from April 9 to April 10, 2022.