In Memoriam: Dr. Rhule Bailey (RB) Sleeth

May 05, 2016

In Memoriam: Dr. Rhule Bailey (RB) Sleeth
Died 29 March 2016
Contributed by Anthony W. Kotula, Ph.D., Lifetime Member Phi Tau Sigma
Excerpt from the May 2016 Phi Tau Sigma Newsletter, Phi Tau Sigma is The Honor Society of Food Science and Technology

Dr. R.B. Sleeth was born 6 February 1929 in Linn, West Virginia.  He earned his B.S. in Animal Husbandry at the University of West Virginia in 1951, his M.S. in Animal Nutrition in 1953, at the University of Florida.  After two years in the U.S. Army, Quartermaster Corps, R.B. attended the University of Missouri, to complete his Ph.D. in Meat and Food Technology in 1959.

Dr. Sleeth then accepted a position with Armour and Company as a Food Technologist and advanced steadily to the position of Vice-President of Scientific Affairs, then Vice President and Director of Research, from which he retired in 1994.  His research programs included development of a process for enzyme tenderization of beef, for which he holds a patent: participation in the advancement of the “Tenderometer”, a device for measuring tenderness, to commercial utilization; and serving as project manager/coordinator in all phases of the development of a plastic container for ham. His published research described the influence of Stilbesterol, Testosterone, Estradiol on the growth of swine; enhancing cured pork acceptability; increasing beef marbling with protein supplements in feed; improved methods for aging beef; utilizing digital computers in research and marketing; and improved marketing of meat from slaughter animals.

R.B. served as a participant in numerous academic and federal task forces formed to address meat-related issues.  Some of these include the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods, the Industry Liaison Panel of the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Science, the International Life Science Institute Food Microbiology Committee, Codes Alimentarius (meat hygiene and processed meat), the Research Council of the American Frozen Food Institute, National Research Council Advisory Board, The Food Industry Research and Development Directors Roundtable, and the Nutrition Research Advisory Committee of the National Live Stock and Meat Board.

R.B. Sleeth has been a liaison and chairperson for international meat meetings.  For example, he coordinated the American Meat Institute’s first Meat Science Research Congress, held in Paris.  R.B. was also Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the European Meeting of the Meat Research Workers (EMMRW) held in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1980, the International Congress of Meat Science and Technology (ICoMST, formerly called the EMMRW), in San Antonio, Texas in 1995, and the ICoMST in Baltimore, Maryland in 2005. In 1999, former Director and Professor of the German Center for Meat Research in Kulmbach, Dr. Lothar (Felix) Leistner wrote "I am still aware of the well-founded advice R.B. has given to international meat science on issues like nitrite addition to products, occurrence and behavior of Listeria monocytogenes and verotoxin producing Eschericia coli in meats, to name just a few hotly disputed questions. Because of his intimate knowledge of the facts and his participation in some influential committees of the U.S., his point of view was authoritative and thus gratefully received by his international colleagues."

Dr. Sleeth is the author or co-author of 18 papers on animal and meat related subjects, 21 concept presentations from advising the USDA Expert Panel on nitrites, nitrates, and nitrosamines, to explaining new marketing concepts.  R.B. is the holder of three patents.

Dr. Sleeth’s most valuable contribution may be his emphasis on aligning the efforts of students and professional meat scientists at universities with regulators and industry in the U.S. and abroad.  R.B. has visited many schools in a period of time spanning of 25 years, talking with students and conducting workshops and seminars. In 1999, Dr. Eero Puolanne, Professor in Meat Technology at the University of Helsinki wrote: "I have personally known Dr. R.B. Sleeth since 1972. I already then noticed his calm but very effective and considering way of organizing things. My first impression has well survived for 25 years. I can hardly think of anybody else who would be so kind. He is able to listen and pay attention to everyone. Dr. Sleeth has also helped me personally to organize practical training for my students who were willing to spend a couple of months in the USA and obtain professional knowledge about the meat industry there. I would say Dr. R. B. Sleeth is an exceptional personality."

Dr. Sleeth served as president-elect of the American Meat Science Association in 1972-73, as president in 1973-74. He was the first industry scientist to serve as president of the AMSA. He was chairman of the Meat Industry Research Conference in 1967 and served as chairman of the Reciprocal Meat Conference in 1971.  R.B. was instrumental in setting the framework for and starting the AMSA Education Foundation using procedures he had developed with his work with the IFT Foundation.  The American Meat Science Association awarded him the Signal Service Award (Fellow status) in 1971, the Special Recognition Award in 1981, the R.C. Pollock Award (AMSA’s highest award) in 1984, the Distinguished Extension/Industry Service Award in 1991, and the International Award in 2001.  He has also been actively involved with the American Society of Animal Science and the Society for the Advancement of Food Service Research.

R.B. Sleeth joined the Institute of Food Technologists as a student member in 1953, serving IFT over the years in many capacities. He was 1976-77 Chair of the IFT Muscle Foods Division and member of the Graduate Fellowship and Babcock-Hart juries. He was also a Board Member of the Council on Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) and a member of CAST’s Executive Committee (1999).  R.B. was an active member of numerous committees of the Chicago Section, including Program, Membership, Tellers, and Executive Committee. He was 1974 Chair of the Tanner Lectureship Committee and Section Councilor. In 1999, he was a Councilor of the Cactus Section. Dr. Sleeth was named an IFT Fellow in 1981 and received IFT’s 1997 Industrial Scientist Achievement Award for his several innovative “firsts” in the meat-food industry.

R.B. has also served on IFT’s Finance Committee; Task Force on Strategic Planning; Task Force on Implementation and Prioritized Strategy of Strategic Plan (Goal A-4: Infrastructure); Task Force on CEO Involvement in IFT; Task Force on Governance; the Short Course Committee (Chair, 1977-78), a member of the IFT Constitution and By-Laws Committee (1999), IFT Executive Committee, and the Committee on Nominations and Elections.

R.B.’s son, Jeffrey Sleeth, M.D., has fond remembrances: “Prior to his back injury, his main hobby was playing golf. He had a regular foursome that would play at Big Run (Lemont, IL) when we lived in Chicago. I was “caddying” for him when he hit his one and only hole-in-one. After his injury in the mid 70’s he was no longer able to play, although would occasionally hit a few balls with me (which he would pay for with discomfort the following days).  Teaching me how to golf: Just as every preteen-teenage boy tries to knock the cover off the ball and invariably sends 9/10 shots into the weeds, he would very patiently say: “Son, just let the club do the work.”

Dr. R.B. Sleeth retired to Arizona after a long and very productive career of research, education, and service to the industry, consumers, professional colleagues, and students.

Personal remembrances:

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. RB Sleeth. I knew RB mostly through IFT activities but I also served on a couple of university Department of Food Science review committees with him. We also all knew of him through his leadership given to the Swift Company. My recollection is that RB was a quiet man, and, like EF Hutton in the ad, when he did have something to say, it was good advice to listen to him.  He was thoughtful, insightful, smart, easy to talk to, well-traveled, and informed. He liked a good joke and, although he was generally quiet and thoughtful, he enjoyed time with people. I always appreciated my time with him. RB, rest in peace.  (Daryl Lund, Ph.D., IFT President 1990-91, Phi Tau Sigma President 2006-08, and Lifetime Member) 

R.B. Sleeth was a terrific mentor, associate and long time friend.  He showed a common decency and a certain grace with everyone he met.  He was the epitome of a gentleman.

I especially enjoyed working with RB on the International Meetings.  His dedication for detail and his organizational skills were key to the success of these meetings which made such an important contribution to the International Meat Science Community. (H. Kenneth Johnson)

It is a privilege to offer a special memory of my relationship with R.B. Sleeth.  R.B. will be remembered on so many levels – friend, fellow educator, researcher – and in each area, he was a great influence in the lives of others.I’d like to offer a personal memory of R.B., which also includes his wife, Wanda.  It occurred in August 1988 in Brisbane, Australia at what used to be known as the European Meat Congress.

My wife, Elain, and I had celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on June 29th, prior to attending this meeting.  Ken and Dawn Johnson were also at this meeting, representing the National Livestock and Meat Board.  Ken and Dawn’s 25th anniversary would be observed in September following the meeting.  As Ken and I were attending the Congress, our wives were talking about our mutual 25th anniversaries and their thoughts of repeating 25th anniversary vows.  In an impulsive spirit of romance, their talking led to planning, and planning led to scheming, and scheming led to recruiting the help of R.B. and Wanda Sleeth.  Both were captivated by the idea and offered to serve as surrogate “Father and Mother of the Brides.”  They took care of every detail, including contacting a minister who conducted the repeating of the vows.  The plan was to surprise Ken and me at the dinner, and were we ever surprised! But it is a special memory of recommitment to our wives before friends who were just as surprised as we were.  The only Australian that I can remember who was at that dinner, Tim Thornton, gave a toast that linked our hearts to Australia for all time!  This would not have taken place without R.B. and Wanda’s enthusiasm and help.  In our hearts, R.B. remains “the Father of the Brides.”  (Russell Cross, Ph.D., President Elect and Lifetime Member of Phi Tau Sigma)

 Dr. Sleeth always shared a thoughtful opinion. (Martha Cassens, M.S., Alternate At-Large Councilor and Lifetime Member of Phi Tau Sigma)

My most important memory of RB is that he was one of seven people who found their way to the hospital in Colorado Springs, CO during the 1980 EMMRW (European Meeting of Meat Research Workers, now called the ICoMST, International Congress of Meat Science and Technology) to donate blood for my Mom who suffered an aortic aneurism during that meeting.  Each of us knows how very difficult it is to leave a meeting, particularly with a lack of ready transportation.  RB, and the others, at that moment became blood relatives (via transfusion).  My Mom’s life was saved, and she lived another 34 years.  (Kathryn L. Kotula, Ph.D., Executive Secretary, Newsletter Editor, & Lifetime Member of Phi Tau Sigma).

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