Longtime Berkeley resident, campus alumnus Joseph Hurlimann dies at 78

Joseph Hurlimann, a longtime Berkeley native and former student and researcher at the College of Natural Resources, died Wednesday morning at the age of 78 after being struck by a car.

Hurlimann, who lived in his childhood home on Curtis Street, cycled everywhere on a gray bike with a basket fastened on the back. He was part of the first class to graduate from the College of Natural Resources, earning a doctorate in plant pathology in 1974.

He earned three degrees from UC Berkeley: a bachelor’s in soil science in 1961, a master’s in plant pathology in 1964 and his 1974 doctorate. While working as a lab technician under Robert Raabe, a former campus plant pathology professor who died in 2013, he was involved in more than 100 publications and studies on plant disease control and ornamental plants.

Aside from his extensive involvement in campus plant pathology research, he was also well known by friends and coworkers for his talents in woodworking and his love for stamp collecting, which began when he was seven years old. He used the stamps that didn’t make it into his collection on blank envelopes for the local lumber company Truitt and White so that all the mail the company sent out featured his vintage stamps, some dating back to the 1930s.

Steven Lindow, a CNR professor of plant ecology, used to work around the corner from Raabe and remembers Hurlimann as “the heart and soul of (Raabe’s) plant disease control lab.” He worked in the plant pathology department alongside Hurlimann for close to 20 years, and had even gotten woodwork from him.

Hurlimann worked part time for family-owned Truitt and White for over 60 years, starting in high school as a stockboy. Even while attending UC Berkeley, he continued to work for the company on weekends and in his spare time.

Jeff Maguire, a salesperson for Truitt and White, worked with Hurlimann for 33 years. He remembered Hurlimann as a humble, unassuming man and appreciated Hurlimann for never boasting about himself despite his many achievements. Hurlimann would join Maguire and his coworkers every day at lunch to watch them play cribbage.

“He would come up, get his bread, put the most obnoxious amount of cheese … then melt it till it was dripping off and smelled like someone’s sock, and eat it,” Maguire said, recalling how he and his coworkers used to marvel at Hurlimann’s good health despite his lunches. “I called it his cheese mess, but he loved it … sitting there happy as a clam, watching us play cribbage and then eating his cheese.”

Dan and Warren White, the CEO and president of Truitt and White respectively, grew up with Hurlimann, who occasionally came over to their house on weekends to do work for their parents. Dan White emphasized Hurlimann’s love for simple pleasures, remembering how Hurlimann would wash down a sandwich with water from their garden hose.

“He taught me how to sweep a floor,” Warren White said, recalling how Hurlimann would put him and his brother to work when they were helping out around the company. “He showed us how to get it done. … He’s certainly going to be missed.”

Contact Ashley Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.