Larger than life: Loss of CSU pioneer B.W. Pickett leaves big boots to fill

UPDATE (Oct. 15, 2020): A virtual memorial service was held Oct. 10, 2020. The service video is above, and a tribute video and slideshow from students are below.

Storyteller. Fisherman. Scientist. Mentor.

A mover and shaker who knew how to work a crowd and could beat anyone at Texas hold’em.

Bold. Driven. Leader.

A no-nonsense go getter who made things happen.

This is how many describe Bill W. Pickett, who played a major role in developing CSU’s world-class programs in reproductive biology and equine sciences before he passed away surrounded by family on February 27 at the age of 89.

B.W. Pickett on microscope
B.W. Pickett conducting research in 1984.

Pickett’s far-reaching legacy includes directing and expanding the world renowned Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory (ARBL) and its Equine Reproduction Laboratory (ERL), as well as developing the nation’s first undergraduate Equine Sciences program.

“That whole system didn’t exist before Bill Pickett came to CSU,” said George Seidel, a University Distinguished Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “He put it all together.”

Decades of building excellence from the ground up

An Oklahoma native who grew up on a dairy, Pickett earned a B.S. degree from Oklahoma State University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Missouri before becoming a faculty member at the University of Connecticut. In 1967, Pickett, whose research focused on reproduction in bulls and stallions, joined faculty at CSU to manage and improve capabilities at its commercial bull facility, known as the “Bull Farm,” and to develop an equine reproductive program.

B.W. Pickett with horse
B.W. Pickett

“Pickett’s original research created the foundation of our current knowledge of equine reproduction and significantly influenced the reproductive management of stallions and mares,” said Patrick McCue, Iron Rose Ranch Professor of Equine Reproduction at the ERL.

From 1971 to 1986, Pickett served as director of the ARBL (known as the Animal Reproduction Laboratory before “biotechnology” was added to the name in 1989), which remains at the forefront of reproductive health research, assisted reproductive technology, and the development of new techniques to improve reproductive success and was CSU’s first Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence. Pickett details the history of the ARBL, its mission to improve livestock production, and its rise to international acclaim in Sex, Science, and Survival in Academe, a book he wrote with the help of colleagues in 2012.

Pickett remained director of the ERL until 1990, transforming what was known simply as the “Stallion Lab” in its early days to the global leader in cutting-edge equine teaching, research, and service that it is today. His talent for cultivating strong relationships and attracting support led to gifts that built the Adams-Atkinson Arena, the B.W Pickett Equine and Teaching Center, named in his honor 2000, and more recently the Bud and Jo Adams Equine Reproduction Laboratory.

“Pickett had an ability to recognize what programs needed to move forward,” said Colin Clay, executive associate dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “And he knew great science and brought it to CSU.”

Advancing future generations

Pickett’s life work to ensure CSU remain the benchmark for training reproductive scientists and equine professionals led him to spearhead the creation of the first undergraduate major in Equine Sciences, which has been offered to students since 1986. The College of Agricultural Sciences based program, which Pickett directed until 2000, currently has over 400 students.

B.W. Pickett
B.W. Pickett

“It is recognized nationally and globally as a leading program in equine sciences and would not have happened without Dr. Pickett,” said Jerry Black, director of Equine Sciences and the Department of Animal Sciences. “We are so appreciative of the foundation he laid. Everybody loved him — he was as a larger than life person and a big part of the success of both the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the College of Agricultural Sciences.”

Pickett continued to serve as director of Equine Sciences and mentored students as a tenured faculty member until his retirement in 2000. From his retirement up until the final weeks of his life, Pickett remained actively involved in the programs he helped build as a consultant, researcher, and fundraiser — including securing the funds to rebuild the ERL in 2013 after a fire destroyed it in 2011.

“He could be tough, but he was determined,” said Clay. “If he wanted to see something happen, and he thought it was important, he got it done. And he did a lot of work behind the scenes to facilitate the success of others.”

UPDATE (March 20, 2020): A memorial service at the B. W. Pickett Equine Teaching and Research Center has been postponed due to national health concerns.

UPDATE (Oct. 15, 2020): A virtual memorial service was held Oct. 10, 2020. The video of the service is above. Below, see a tribute video and a slideshow from students.

Awards and Distinctions

1962- Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1974- Morris Animal Foundation Fellow
1975- Gamma Sigma Delta’s Faculty Certificate of Merit Award
1977- Evelyn Williams Scholar, University of Sydney, Australia
1978- American Society of Animal Science, Physiology and Endocrinology Award
1980- National Association of Animal Breeders Research Award
1981- L.W. Durrell Award for Research and Creativity
1982- Graduate of Distinction Award, Oklahoma State University
1985- Distinguished Service Award, Equine Nutrition and Physiology Society
1986- Colorado Horseman of the Year, Colorado Horseman’s Council