Phillips Foster, 79, dies; University of Maryland agricultural economics professor

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 5, 2010; C06

Phillips W. Foster, 79, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Maryland, who taught some of the university's first courses in environmental studies and ecology, died Aug. 29 at a Manor Care rehabilitation facility in Wheaton. He had congestive heart failure and complications from a broken hip.

Dr. Foster joined the Maryland faculty in 1962 and soon began teaching a course on the environment. In the 1970s, he taught a popular ecology course that was held in one of the largest lecture halls on the College Park campus.

He wrote more than 100 scholarly papers, and his wide-ranging academic interests included agriculture, international development, nutrition, population growth and preschool education. Among other work, Dr. Foster conducted some of the first analyses showing the long-range social benefits of preschool and early childhood education for low-income students.

In the 1980s, Dr. Foster began teaching a course on food supply, demand and agricultural productivity, particularly in Third World countries. He was the principal author of "The World Food Problem," a textbook now in its fourth edition.

During academic sabbaticals, Dr. Foster spent extended periods of time in India, Australia, Algeria and Colombia, and he was among the first U.S. scholars invited to lecture on economics in China. From 1968 to 1971, he wrote, directed and produced a documentary film about a village in rural India and its struggles to adapt long-held traditions to modern life.

Phillips Wayne Foster was born April 26, 1931, in Ogdensburg, N.Y., and was an outstanding French horn player during his youth. His family said he turned down a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., to study economics at Cornell University.

After graduating from Cornell, he was a Fulbright fellow, and in 1958, he received a doctorate in agricultural economics from the University of Illinois. He taught at Michigan State University before coming to Maryland.

Dr. Foster retired in 1994 but continued to consult for several years with the Philippine government on agricultural development.

He lived in College Park and was a member of the Rotary Club and Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi.

His 50-year marriage to Mary Denzine Foster ended in divorce.

Survivors include three children, David Foster of Cabarete, Dominican Republic, Dean Foster of Philadelphia and Shanti Foster of Tucson; and a sister.