Mills Forster Clarke was born at Lone Butte, Alberta in 1913. His family moved to Vancouver about ten years later and he enrolled in the Faculty of Agriculture at UBC in 1931. He completed his BSA degree in 1935, having taken one year out to work on construction of the Burrard Bridge to finance his studies.
In the summer of 1934, following his third year of university, Mills worked at the Agassiz Experimental Farm. A letter from the Canada Department of Agriculture Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa offered him a summer job at 30 cents per hour, less a 10% pay cut due to the Depression. He worked at the Experimental Farm again in the summer of 1936.
Mills then started a Master of Science program at UBC in September of 1936, funded by a Carnegie Foundation scholarship. He completed the degree in 1937, and in May of that year started his long, distinguished career with the Canada Department of Agriculture at the Agassiz Experimental Farm. His initial salary was $110 per month. He was hired as an agronomist, and had responsibility for developing improved varieties and management practices for forage crops such as hay and corn, and for oats. His job was temporary at first – renewed yearly – until he received a permanent position effective April 1, 1940. This brought a salary increase to $150 per month, less $15 per month for rental of the house on the Experimental Farm.
During the Second World War, Mills supervised the planting of grass on military airstrips. He also served as officer in charge, with the rank of Captain, of the 94th Company of the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, which was part of the coastal defence system.
After the war Mills returned to his research position at Agassiz. His work on crossbreeding in oats was built upon by Dr Doug Taylor. This work culminated in the release of the variety ‘Fraser’ which was grown widely in the Fraser Valley. Mills took leave from his position in Agassiz from1949 to 1951 in order to complete a PhD at Pennsylvania State University.
In 1953 Mills became Director of the Agassiz Experimental Farm. He remained in this position until 1972 when he was appointed Forage Crops Co-ordinator in Ottawa. For several years he represented Canada on United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization committees.
Mills retired from Agriculture Canada in December 1976. He spent the 1977-1978 university term as a Visiting Professor of Agronomy at Macdonald College of McGill University in Montreal. During this period he also worked under contract with Agriculture Canada to prepare a report on energy usage in field crop production in western Canada.
He moved to Nanaimo in 1978 and was appointed Chairman of the BC Land Commission in 1980, serving in this capacity until 1985.
In addition to his professional life, Mills was committed to community service. He was active in Rotary from 1955 until the time of his death in 1998. During the years at Agassiz, he taught Sunday school, worked with the local Red Cross committee, was chairman of the Agassiz School Board, a member of the Chilliwack Regional Hospital board, and served on the district Boy Scouts Council. He was elected to the University of British Columbia Senate in 1969, and re-elected in 1972. His second term on the UBC Senate was cut short by his move to Ottawa.
Mills married Helen Urie in 1938. They had two sons, Craig and John.. John enrolled at UBC in 1967, and completed his BSc(Agr) in 1971. He then received an MSc in Plant Science from UBC in 1973, and a PhD in Crop Science from the University of Saskatchewan in 1977. He became a durum wheat breeder at the Agriculture and Agri Food Canada Research Station at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. John’s wife Frances (nee Biram) also received a BSc (Agr) in 1972 from UBC and completed an MSc (1993) and PhD in Crop Science (1996) at the University of Saskatchewan, becoming a research scientist in quantitative genetics at the Swift Current Research Station, Saskatchewan.
In 2008 Dr Clarke received one of the nine LFS Centenary Awards which recognized the outstanding achievements of UBC alumni. His son, Dr. Craig Clarke attended the ceremony and accepted on his behalf.
R Blair and C R Nicholls 2007, based on a biography submitted by Dr Craig Clarke.