The World Food Prize Foundation

World Food Prize Foundation Offers Tribute to Chairman John Ruan III

09/13/2021

On behalf of all of the World Food Prize Laureates and our Council of Advisors, the World Food Prize Foundation extends its deepest condolences to Janis Ruan and the entire Ruan family for the loss of John Ruan III, the Foundation’s Chairman, who passed away on September 11, 2021. 

“I have had the honor to know and work with John Ruan III over the last 15 years as he continued and strengthened the legacy of the World Food Prize,” said Paul Schickler, Chair, World Food Prize Foundation Council of Advisors. “As Chair of the Council of Advisors, all of us associated with the Foundation, the Laureate Award, the Borlaug Dialogue and the Youth Institute will redouble our efforts in honor of John.”

John Ruan III assumed leadership of the Foundation in 2000, succeeding his father, John Ruan Sr., as Chairman. During his tenure, the World Food Prize grew from a small, one-day local gathering into a week-long series of noteworthy ceremonies and conversations surrounding global food security and drawing over 1,500 participants to Des Moines annually from more than 65 countries. Under his leadership and because of his generosity, the annual $250,000 award for fighting hunger in the world has come to be known internationally as the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”

Chair of the Laureate Selection Committee and 2009 World Food Prize Laureate Gebisa Ejeta said, “He was a wonderful man and a great humanitarian. He represented his family’s great legacy with dignity, resolve and absolute humility. I had great admiration and respect for John as a man. He will be leaving a huge void in so many places and particularly with his loving family.”

“John Ruan III led the World Food Prize Foundation’s Board over the last twenty years, and guided me in the last twenty months in developing many new directions,” said Barbara L. Stinson, President, World Food Prize Foundation. “We all mourn his sudden passing, and stand ready to support his family in this difficult time. For me, he will be missed every day. As I began my position, John III offered clear guidance and a strong vision for the future of the World Food Prize Foundation. Honestly, among many positive factors, it was the strength of his conviction and passion about the World Food Prize, and Norman Borlaug's legacy, that compelled me to enthusiastically accept the role. He brought his contacts, ideas and resources to bear, especially as we responded to the pandemic and planned innovations. He was my strong partner and collaborator, guiding the organization into the next generation.”

John's strength of character and powerful determination will be remembered most. John III was a quiet man, but he spoke passionately about the critical importance of the mission of the World Food Prize. John believed in all of the work of the Foundation, including the dialogues, youth programs, and especially the annual Laureate Award Ceremony, which he officiated alongside the Governor of Iowa so many times in the Iowa Capitol. 

John III was the visionary, driving force behind the restoration of the Des Moines Public Library, turning it into the international headquarters for the World Food Prize Foundation. In 2001, he announced that the Ruan family would provide $5 million to support transforming the century-old Des Moines Public Library into the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. At that time, the west side of the library served as a parking lot. Mr. Ruan’s vision was to create an urban oasis of greenery along the Des Moines River. When the Hall of Laureates and surrounding public gardens were unveiled in 2011, at the time of the Foundation’s 25th anniversary, they became a meaningful and treasured part of the Principal Riverwalk. In October 2016, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the World Food Prize, the flourishing garden at the Hall of Laureates was officially dedicated and named the Janis and John Ruan III Garden. 

It was also under John’s leadership that the Hall of Laureates attained LEED Platinum certification, the highest possible level of energy efficiency and resource conservation, making the historic building a national landmark of environmental preservation. John and his family are dedicated to the fight to end hunger around the world, and his legacy is enshrined in the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates. 

“The first time I met John Ruan III came in 1999, when over dinner in Washington, D.C. with his wonderful wife Janis, he convinced me to retire from the State Department and come home to Iowa to assume leadership of the World Food Prize,” said Amb. Ken Quinn, President Emeritus, World Food Prize Foundation. “I was so impressed by his commitment to building the World Food Prize into a great asset for Des Moines and for America. It was my great privilege to work closely with John in his role as Chairman for the next two decades, as we developed the Borlaug Dialogue into the ‘premiere conference in the world on global agriculture,’ and fulfilled John's inspired vision to transform the former Des Moines Public Library building into the magnificent Hall of Laureates. The last time I saw John Ruan III was in December 2019 when I had just retired. At dinner with our wives, I proposed a toast to John to celebrate what had been accomplished during his tenure as Chairman - - we had fulfilled his Father's and Norman Borlaug's dream that the World Food Prize would come to be seen around the globe as the ‘Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.’"

How grateful we are to have had John Ruan III and his faithful participation, wonderful generosity and his continual concentration and belief in what we do,” said Maggie Catley-Carlson, World Food Prize Foundation Council of Advisors Member and retired President, Canadian International Development Agency. “His father, he and his family have been such friends to the World Food Prize. How fortunate that the family members will continue with the Prize.”

The World Food Prize Foundation is committed to preserving the legacy of John Ruan III. The 2021 World Food Prize annual events this October will be dedicated to his memory, and his lifetime passion of ending hunger around the globe. 

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