Richard Willham
May 4, 1932 - December 31, 2017

Richard Willham

Richard Willham
May 4, 1932 - Dec 31, 2017

Richard Willham
Iframe toggler
Send Sympathy Gifts
Plan Ahead
Free Grief Support
Free Newsletter

Richard L. Willham, 85, of Ames, IA, passed away on December 31, 2017.

Richard was born in the dust bowl of 1932. He married the love of his life, Esther B. Burkhart, June 1, 1954, at the First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater, OK. He is survived by his loving wife Esther, their daughter Karen (Marc) Willham Conley and son Oliver Lee (Cindy) Willham. Richard and Esther have three grandchildren: Audrey Conley, Travis (Rebecca) Conley and Oliver Nash Fobian Willham and one great grandson Barrett Conley. "Each has been a joyous and exciting experience."

Richard is widely credited as one of the foremost contributors to beef cattle breeding. He graduated with a B.S. in Animal Husbandry from Oklahoma A & M College in 1954 and received his M.S. in Animal Breeding from Dr. Lush at Iowa State in 1955. After serving on occupation duty in Korea as a military officer, Richard returned to ISU and completed his Ph.D. in 1960.

Richard worked as an assistant professor (1959-1963) in ISU's Animal Science Department before accepting a position as associate professor (1963-1966) at Oklahoma State University. At Oklahoma State, Richard started a beef selection project, worked with breeders and was Chairman of the Graduate Faculty of Genetics. In 1966, he returned to Iowa State University in beef cattle breeding. He wrote and popularized the "computer cow game" which is used nationally and internationally to teach selection principles using beef performance records. Richard was promoted to professor in 1971. In 1979, he became C.F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture.

A founding member of the Beef Improvement Federation, an organization of performance groups in the beef industry dedicated to the promotion of performance evaluation, Willham coauthored the organization's National Sire Evaluation Guidelines. He introduced the concept of breeding values to the beef industry and the analysis of performance records in five breed associations.

Encouraged by Esther's love of the humanities, Richard designed, researched, developed and shared the excitement of discovery with more than 1,000 students through the inception of an undergraduate course titled "Our Livestock Heritage." Self-study, art and history courses, study with curators and historians at museums, and art about livestock in major museums gave a breath to the course. Richard was excited to share his course with other professors and have it continue beyond his teaching.

Richard also taught "population genetics" to many graduate students now in responsible positions. He made eight professional trips to Europe, two to Japan and one to New Zealand. He received numerous beef industry, scientific and academic honors and awards.

Major historic works include the following: Genetic Improvement of Beef Cattle in the US (1984) JAS; The Legacy of the Stockman (1985); From Husbandry to Science: A Highly Significant Facet of Our Livestock Heritage (1986) JAS; Ideas into Action: First 25 Years of the Beef Improvement Federation (1993); A Heritage of Leadership: First 100 Years of the Animal Science Department at Iowa State University (1986).

Richard retired as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at a gala retirement party in July 1997 at the Brunnier Art Gallery at ISU. Following "retirement," he taught his livestock heritage course at Colorado State University for four semesters, he team-taught undergraduate animal breeding with Tom Sutherland at Colorado State University and he taught his course at Iowa State in 2000 and 2001. Richard developed and taught a College for Seniors Course titled Agriculture: From the Cave to the Corn Belt during the spring of 2000. He retired as a board member of the Living History Farm in 2000 after serving since 1986.

Known for his love of history and livestock art, Richard served as a guest curator at an art exposition at Brunnier Gallery, and authored a youth and adult catalog titled "Centuries of Fascination: Art about Livestock (1990). He also helped produce a historical video and essay on the Saddle & Sirloin Club that celebrated the centennial in 2003, the new club location and the more than 345 portraits of livestock leaders. In 2004, thanks to Merlyn Nielsen, Richard had his portrait hung in the Saddle and Sirloin Club portrait collection.

Richard was asked to assist with the 2008 centennial for the American Society of Animal Science and was instrumental in producing a video and coffee table book to honor the event. According to Richard, "Both were created with great love for ASAS, which I have attended since 1946. Now I think all the debts to my mentors have been paid and I can really retire."

Richard's love of the mountains of Colorado is reflected in his 55 years of yearly trips with his family to Estes Park. Among many highlights is climbing Long's Peak with his daughter and son. Richard and Esther served several active roles in the Collegiate Presbyterian Church, where they were members since 1954.

Richard was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. His endearing personality, brilliant mind and humble manner will be missed by all who knew and loved him.

Visitation will be held 4-6 PM on Friday, January 12th at Grandon Funeral and Cremation Care. A Celebration of Life will be held 1:30-3:30 PM on Saturday, January 13th at Green Hills Retirement Community.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of Richard to the Ester and Richard Willham Graduate Scholarship in Animal Science, c/o Iowa State University Foundation, 2505 University Boulevard, Ames, IA 50010. Purpose: To support out-of-the-ordinary opportunities that will encourage student creativity. MS or PhD; gpa 3.0 or greater; application with plan to use funds for creative activities such as attending a meeting of special interest, taking an interesting course outside major, working in different lab, creating unusual technology transfers w/emphasis on resulting social change, developing new technology, etc. Or Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames.


There are no tributes yet.

We encourage you to show your support by adding a tribute above:

  • Share your favorite memory of Richard
  • Offer your condolences to the family
  • Light a virtual candle


There are no videos to display


Add a photo


Grandon Funeral and Cremation Care
414 Lincoln Way
Ames, Iowa 50010
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM


Green Hills Retirement Community
2200 Hamilton Drive
Ames, Iowa 50014
1:30 PM

Gifts that Matter

Help show your support to the family during this difficult time by providing them a gift of sympathy flowers, gift baskets, and more. It's secure and easy, plus we'll ship your gift directly to the services.

Browse our products
*Due to time restrictions, delivery to service is unavailable.

Have a floral question? Call +1 888 455 4590

Healing Registry Unavailable at the Moment!


Product Name




Your Shopping Cart is Empty

Jane Doe ×

What's your email address?

What Would You Like Written on the Card?

Choose a Delivery Date

* Note: Flower deliveries are limited to the highlighted delivery dates. Sunday deliveries are not available for flowers.

Where Would You Like To Deliver To


No obituaries found

Product Details


Product Name



Iframe toggler
Send Sympathy Gifts
Plan Ahead
Free Grief Support
Free Newsletter
Richard Willham

Sign in to add your memory

We will never post without permission

Richard Willham

Share Photo/Memorial Tributes

Richard Willham

Add to Your Calendar

Richard Willham

Obit Checkin

Richard Willham

Obituary Notifications

Grief Support

Richard Willham

Get Updates - tribute notifications

Thank you for sharing your memory of Richard

Help show your support by providing a gift of flowers and spreading the word.

Gift of Flowers

Offer comfort and support to the family with beautiful flowers and spreads

Send Flowers Browse Flowers

Spread the Word

Help friends and acquaintances of Richard leave memories by sharing to Facebook

Share to Facebook Share on Facebook

"Faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love"