By Olivia Norton ’16
COLLEGE STATION – On Wednesday, April 23, Anne L. Armstrong was posthumously honored as a 2014 Inductee into the Animal Science Hall of Fame during the Animal Science External Awards program. Dr. Russell Cross, Head of the Animal Science department, presented the award to Armstrong’s daughter, Katherine Armstrong Love, who accepted on Mrs. Armstrong’s behalf.
Anne Legendre Armstrong, who advised four presidents and was the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, was known for her intelligence, diplomacy, political savvy, and sense of humor. She made a legendary contribution to animal science at Texas A&M University and worldwide through her role in obtaining political and financial support for the Bovine Genome Sequencing Project.
Born in New Orleans, she was educated at Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, where she was head of the student body and served as valedictorian of her graduating class. Armstrong received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Vassar College in 1949. Soon after graduation, she married cattleman Tobin Armstrong whom she had met a few years earlier while visiting the King Ranch in South Texas. The couple made their home at the Armstrong Ranch in Kenedy County for the remainder of their lives where they raised their five children, Barclay, Katharine, Sarita, and twins Tobin, Jr. and James.
Mrs. Armstrong was the first woman appointed Counselor to the President with Cabinet rank, serving Presidents Nixon and Ford. In 1976, President Ford appointed her ambassador to Great Britain. She also advised Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and was the first woman to serve as co-chair of a national political party. President Reagan honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987.
Anne and Tobin Armstrong were active in Texas politics throughout their lives. She succeeded her husband after his death in 2005 as a County Commissioner of Kenedy County, Texas, and held the office until her death in 2008. Mrs. Armstrong also served on the Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System, among her many other board positions in both government and industry.
Fred McClure, now chief executive officer of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, had known Mrs. Armstrong for 20 years when they began serving together as regents. He recalls, “When I think of the standard to which selfless public servants should aspire, Anne Armstrong set the bar. Her elegance and South Texas rancher values combined to make her a powerful force in agriculture, business, public policy, international affairs, and politics.”
Mrs. Armstrong met Jim Womack, now University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, while they served together on the search committee that chose Dr. Robert Gates as a candidate for president of Texas A&M. She and Dr. Womack talked often about advancements in cattle genetics and genomics and how they might improve cattle breeding.
In 2002, the National Human Genome Research Institute called for proposals to sequence the genome of model organisms to follow the human genome project. Many people believed that cattle would be a good candidate, and the institute agreed. But $25 million in additional funding would have to be contributed by the agricultural sector. Mrs. Armstrong used her influence to help raise the money, with contributions from the USDA and agricultural agencies in four other countries. By late summer of 2003, $15 million was committed for the project. To help make up the shortfall, she arranged a meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry and his staff.
Dr. Womack recalls, “I had heard her referred to as ‘The Velvet Hammer,’ and I believe I witnessed the source of that title during our meeting in the Capitol.” From that meeting, the Governor’s Office committed the remaining $10 million from the State of Texas.
The Bovine Genome Sequencing Project was launched in January 2004. The sequence data were generated by the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center, and analysis of the data was led by faculty in the Department of Animal Science. The entire project took six years to complete, with participation by more than 300 scientists from 25 countries. A draft sequence of a Hereford cow was made available in a public database in October 2004 and the project culminated with a publication in the journal Science in April 2009.
Having the bovine genome sequenced as early as 2004 made this information available to a generation of scientists who have already helped to improve the beef and dairy industries, enhance consumer products, and create more sustainable food production for increasing populations.
The Animal Science Hall of Fame celebrates outstanding individuals who, through their exceptional work and achievements, have advanced the field of animal science and made a profound difference to the productivity and sustainability of animal agriculture. Also, they have a record of impressive accomplishments which indicate significant achievements and contributions made to the field of animal science at the state, national and/or international level.
With that in mind, the legacy and impact that Armstrong has had on the Animal Science community is one that will not be soon forgotten.
Olivia Norton ’16 is a junior animal science major from Texarkana, Texas.
For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Maggie Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-1542.