From the Fall 2018 Edition of Discovery
Finding Balance, Broadening Horizons
Alum Terry Whitworth (Entomology, MS’72, PhD’75), carves a meaningful, multi-faceted career by following his passions
Photo courtesy Terry Whitworth
Loving Where the Sagebrush Grows: Given a choice, Utah State University alums Terry and Faye Whitworth would have likely stayed in Logan to pursue their post-graduate careers. But Cache Valley in 1975 had limited employment opportunities for Terry, a newly minted PhD.
“There were just too many well-educated people in Cache Valley,” says Whitworth, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees in entomology from Utah State. “But we hated to leave.”
The region’s mountains were what drew the young married couple, both natives of the Midwest, to Utah State in the first place.
“We loved the year-round recreational opportunities,” he says. “We hiked Logan Canyon in the summer and cross-country skied in the winter, we skied at Beaver and camped all over Utah, southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming.”
Opportunities beckoned on the East Coast, particularly Florida, but the pair chose location over earning power. Plus, Terry surmised, the traditional academic calendar’s confining schedule would hinder his beloved pursuits of fishing, hunting and camping.
“I chose balance and quality of life over the rat race,” he says. “It was one of my best decisions and the counsel I give to young professionals starting their careers.”
So off to Tacoma, Washington Terry and Faye went, where Terry accepted a position with a pest control company. Faye, who earned degrees in history, social studies and education, continued her high school teaching career.
Growing a Business in a Transforming Industry
Terry quickly rose to the position of general manager, where he learned all he could about an industry experiencing rapid change. The ecology movement was gathering momentum and consumers, along with practitioners, sought more environmentally friendly solutions to pest control.
“At the time I was starting in the industry, most pest control professionals were known as ‘exterminators,’ many were not well educated in science and a common approach was to ‘nuke everything’ with strong chemicals,” he says. “Yet we were an industry in transformation, it was the advent of the Environmental Protection Agency and our focus was on prevention of pest infestations.”
Terry had witnessed USU Extension in action with its productive, collaborative partnerships with communities and industry. He sought out extension expertise and services from Washington State University and, in partnership with extension contacts, published a guide, still in use today, for pest control operators seeking licensure in the state of Washington.
Photo courtesy M. Muffoletto
“I hooked up with Washington State University Extension immediately, because little was known about entomology in our industry and I knew the partnership would be valuable,” he says.
Terry was subsequently elected president of the Washington State Pest Control Association and led an education program for pest control operators with WSU Extension from the late 1970s until 2008.
After a few years of working for an established business, the time came when he chose to open his own business.
“My experience managing a company convinced me I was ready to start my own firm,” Terry says.
Two friends, who owned companies, advised him against this decision, warning that “his company would soon own him.”
“I couldn’t understand why, if you are the owner, you would build a business that makes you unhappy,” Terry says. “Now, nearly 40 years later, my business, Whitworth Pest Solutions, is still a source of great joy for my wife and me.”
From Mammalogy to Entomology
So, how did a farm boy from northeastern Missouri end up finding insects so fascinating?
Terry’s undergraduate career began at Northeast Missouri State College, now known as Truman State University, in Kirksville.
Upon graduation and en route to graduate study at Utah State, Terry initially set his sights on mammalogy.
“I thought I’d be studying warm-blooded, furry animals,” he says.
But a chance meeting with the late Wilford J. Hanson (1927-2013), USU alum and College of Science faculty member from 1965 to 1995, opened his eyes to new opportunities.
“Dr. Hanson’s influence on me was profound,” Terry says. “He inspired me and showed me how intriguing the study of entomology could be. When you see insects under a microscope, it’s a whole new, amazingly complex world.”
Hanson introduced Terry to scientist Ken Capelle of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, who invited the grad student to become part of an emerging project that would become a life-long passion.
“Ken was working on a fascinating bird blowfly project that led to topics for both my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation,” Terry says.
Ultimately, Terry was invited and colleagues Curtis Sabrosky and Gordon Bennett co-authored a book on bird blow flies, published by Smithsonian Press. Bird Blow Flies (Protocalliphora) in North America (Diptera: Calliphoridae), in which the authors described 15 new species of the genus, is still in print and available online. It remains a definitive source of information on this genus.
Photo courtesy Terry Whitworth
Terry says the project afforded him the opportunity to work on a project that was “both fun and intriguing.”
“Bird blow flies are most often found in bird nests and I continue to study them,” he says. “To date, I’ve examined more than 9,000 bird nests.”
Terry recounts an insect-collecting trip to southern Mexico with Hanson and Capelle as a highlight of his graduate studies.
“We met up with the Bohart brothers, Richard and George, who were legends in entomology circles,” he says. “We drove all the way to Mazatlan. It was quite the adventure.”
Little Insects, Big Implications
Blow flies, Terry writes on his page, blowflies.net, are one of the most commonly seen insects around the world. Found throughout geographical regions of the world from the poles to the equator, the two-winged flies, relatively large in size, feature distinctive metallic green, blue, purple or coppery colors.
“Blow flies” is the common name for species of the genus Calliphoridae, order Diptera.
“The ‘blow’ in the name refers to the habit of females ‘blowing’ or depositing eggs or larvae on dead carcasses or live hosts,” Terry says.
Photo courtesy Terry Whitworth
Indeed, the insects gather rapidly after an animal dies or around rotting food or feces. Blow flies need to find decaying bodies as quickly as possible, because that’s where fertile flies lay their eggs. Those eggs quickly hatch into maggots that consume and break down rotting flesh.
But that brings us to one of the reasons these insects are useful to humans: Forensic science.
Blow files, it turns out, are very helpful informants.
“TV crime dramas, like CSI, have drawn attention to the utility of blow flies in murder investigations,” Terry says. “For one thing, flies often lead police to the scene of the crime. Evidence from blow flies can also help investigators estimate the victim’s time of death and even provide clues about the perpetrator.”
Building a Business
Starting his own business was a daunting venture, but Terry had the advantage of early grounding from his thrifty mom and dad.
“My parents, who were farmers in northeastern Missouri, bought a country store during my youth,” he recalls. “I learned a lot about running a business from them. Without that experience, I would have been mystified.”
Terry is also quick to credit his wife, Faye, with helping him achieve eventual success.
“Support from my wife was the number one reason we were able to build a business,” he says. “With her job as a high school teacher, she was, initially, our sole financial support. She had faith in me, as I started a business from scratch.”
It took five years to capitalize the business, Terry says. During this time, he drew no income.
“Every penny went back into the business,” he says. “We avoided loans, except for vehicle loans. Gradually, we began to earn more and more.”
Whitworth Pest Solutions became a solid and trusted business. In 2000, Terry and his team completed a new building, specifically crafted to set the highest standards in pesticide and worker safety.
“The day we made our final payment on our building was joyous,” Terry says. “We took some chances and we were vulnerable, but we were also hard-working.”
Today, Terry is easing into retirement and selling his business to employees.
“Ten years ago, I arranged for three of my best employees to take charge of and become purchasers of my company,” he says. “The company is thriving today and I still consult with them regularly. I’m confident they’ll continue to run the business on the premise upon which it was founded – honesty, ethics and excellent customer care.”
Photo courtesy Terry Whitworth
A few years ago, Terry was inducted to the Hall of Fame at his alma mater, Missouri’s Unionville High School, and invited to speak to students.
“I spent a whole day at the school, which was very insightful,” he says. “I talked with students who’d never left the small county in which they were born and whose aspirations were limited. I shared my own experiences and how I’d followed opportunities.”
The school’s teachers told Terry his visit helped inspire many students and broadened horizons.
“It was very humbling and gratifying to hear that,” he says. “I was very honored.”
To Aggie students, Terry, who served on the College of Science Advisory Board for three years, offers similar advice.
“With hard work and determination, you will eventually be rewarded for your efforts,” he says. “If you really want to do something, work hard and be persistent. Looking back, you’ll be glad you chose the path you did.”
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