O. Fugalli

Oscar’s fluency in English led him to be recruited as an interpreter by the US Army in 1944 as it fought its way northwards. This connection was significant in his decision to study for his MSc degree at SUNY, Syracuse.

The organisation of the Eighth World Forestry Congress in Indonesia was a strong memory for Oscar because during its preparation he had a massive heart attack which very nearly killed him. Although his heart was significantly weakened, for such a big man, that did not stop him travelling on both his FAO and IUFRO duties.

With very small donor support, Oscar created the Special Programme for Developing Countries at the IUFRO Secretariat in Vienna in 1983. Although he had two willing assistants in Margareta Khorchidi and Renate Prueller, his vast global correspondence resulted in floods of paper which rapidly built up in Vienna as he was only able to secure funding to sustain himself half-time in that city. For the other half of his time, he spent in his family home in Rome while working in the grey literature collection in the library of the Forestry Department. Some of his administrator colleagues in FAO were unconvinced of the value of retaining this large collection of documents from field projects, which other people find invaluable as baselines for assessment of change and as records of developmental work undertaken even though not of formal academic status. Oscar was frequently called upon to defend the existence of this space-consuming library which he did with customary tenacity and courtesy.

During his time at IUFRO / SPDC, Oscar organised and raised funds for a series of regional research planning workshops. The first was held at Kandy in Sri Lanka in July 1984 for Asia; the second for the Sahelian and North Sudanian Zones in Africa was held at Nairobi, Kenya in January 1986; the third for Latin America was held in Huaraz, Peru in July 1987; and the fourth for Eastern and Southern Africa was held at Lilongwe, Malawi in October 1988. Oscar secured eminent persons to write up the background papers, and the discussions which were published by IUFRO and others show that discussions about priorities were lively. Oscar was perhaps ahead of his time in noting that the background papers and discussions concentrated on technical issues while he himself was very conscious that the problems actually encountered in the developing countries were far more likely to be in relation to institutional and policy problems. Recognising the significant weaknesses in African forestry research perhaps two decades before the Commission for Africa (March 2005), Oscar recruited Dominic Iyamabo, former Chief Research Officer for Nigeria to be the coordinator of the IUFRO Special Programme for Africa. This appointment led to a further IUFRO workshop, on management forestry research in Africa, at Nairobi in June 1989.

During his tenure at the SPDC, Oscar also oversaw the start of a series of training manuals, the first being on experimental design and statistical analysis specifically for tropical foresters. This series of manuals and associated courses has been continued by his successors as coordinator of the SPDC, when sporadic donor funding has allowed. Oscar strove mightily to persuade the IUFRO Executive Board to take the SPDC more closely into the mainstream structure of IUFRO. However, it was always going to be dependent on donor funding and he was unable, in spite of his vigorous and sustained efforts, to secure a pipeline of funding. His problem continues today.

In spite of retiring from FAO with high rank, Oscar was keen to save on his expenses so as to plough the maximum amount into SPDC operations. While in Vienna for his two weeks each month, Oscar lived in a little attic room at the top of the main building of the Austrian Forest Research Institute or in a similar room for visitors in the delightful Botanic Garden nearby.

Oscar was a keen supporter of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP), launched by the major international agencies and donors in the mid-1980s, well in advance of the UNCED Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. He attended all the coordination meetings and continued to press reasonably the case for attention to both strategic and applied research as part of the national exercises of TFAP.

In spite of his seniority and gravity, Oscar always retained a strong sense of humour and mischief. Knowing all the rules and protocols of FAO and the Italian bureaucracy, he knew also the ways of circumventing them when convenient. Passengers in his tiny little car in Rome were invited to choose which of the traffic laws should be broken that day. He knew all the backstreets and shortcuts in and around Rome and delighted in driving his little car the wrong way down the systems.

One might get the impression that Oscar was an archetypal bureaucrat, having spent almost his whole career in FAO and IUFRO headquarters. However, he enjoyed his visits to the field and had a fund of relevant anecdotes, most of which were probably true. Oscar was a devoted family man and his love of humanity was warmly extended to colleagues in every country. Although working in large bureaucracies, Oscar himself was keen on a very light office touch and a high degree of informality. Oscar was a towering and enduring figure, not only physically, experienced in the management and circumvention of the bureaucracies and ever helpful to colleagues in developing countries.

John Palmer