Woodstock farmer was a ‘renaissance man’

By Ryan Cornell

Humphrey Frederick Sassoon, a fruit farmer and agriculture scientist in Winchester and Woodstock, died Monday in his Venice, California, home following a long battle with dementia. He was 93.

His daughter, Clare Sassoon, remembers him for his obscure sense of humor, love of music and his intelligence and kindness.

“He didn’t have a mean bone in his body,” she said.

“He tried to always keep the idea in mind that he wanted to leave the world a better place than he found it, and he always tried to do that in everything he did.”

Born Aug. 18, 1920, in England, Humphrey Sassoon came from a family that “made significant contributions.” He was a cousin of Rosalind Franklin, a scientist whose work led to the discovery of the DNA double helix, and his father was a cousin of the poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Humphrey Sassoon enlisted in the Army as a sergeant in World War II, and after being captured by German grenadiers, was kept as a prisoner of war for two years. During that span, he suffered extreme deprivation and was starved down to 86 pounds, which left him with a lifelong interest in nutrition.

“He never got angry at the prisoner guards,” his daughter said. “He was never angry at being starved down. Every time I asked him about that, he would say they all suffered, everyone was suffering [from the food shortage].”

Once the war ended, he worked as a farm manager near Oxford, as an agronomist in South India for two years and at a pharmaceutical research facility in England, before earning a Ph.D. in Animal Sciences from Bristol University and being offered a chance to do post-doctoral work in the U.S.

Humphrey Sassoon moved his family to the U.S. in 1964, and worked in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois; Norman, Oklahoma and the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

In 1980, he retired from science and bought a farmhouse in Winchester, where he and his wife, Mary Patricia Boord, grew fruits such as apples, apricots and berries.

They moved to a smaller farm near Woodstock in 1985, and continued their fruit growing. Clare Sassoon said her father participated in many community activities, ranging from volunteering to teach Latin at the local high school, participating as organist at his church, collaborating with the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music and selling his fruits at the local farmers market.

“One of his longest running jokes was, people at the farmers market would come up to him and ask ‘Are you organic?’ and he would say, ‘Yes, carbon mostly,’ about his body, and people would scratch their heads,” she said.

Humphrey Sassoon and his wife moved to California in 2012 so his children could care for him as his health continued to decline.

His daughter, who described his Scrabble skills as “legendary,” said his dementia seemed to worsen around 2010.

“That was one of the first times I knew he was in trouble when I was able to win against him,” she said. “I’m pretty good in the word department, but I could never beat him and I don’t know if anybody else could beat him.”

Humphrey Sassoon is survived by his wife, Patricia Sassoon; his brother, John Sassoon; his children, Timothy, Mark and Clare; and his five grandchildren.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com