In memoriam: George J. Flick, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Food Science and Technology
An accomplished scholar and beloved professor for more than 40 years, Flick passed away on June 3.
George Flick, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech, died on June 3. Flick was a distinguished scholar, beloved professor, and cherished member of our university community, with a prolific career that spanned more than four decades. He was 83.
A member of the Virginia Tech community since 1969, Flick made significant contributions to the fields of seafood processing and technology, aquaculture, and risk management. He was a uniquely gifted individual who was known for his innovative spirit, his ability to pull together diverse and cross-functional teams, and his enduring commitment to the land-grant mission.
Born in New Orleans, Flick earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at Louisiana State University. He served as a visiting professor in the Department of Marine Biochemistry at Tokyo University, which allowed him to expand his knowledge while also sharing his expertise with scholars from around the globe. When he came to Virginia Tech, he set about developing connections and experience that set the stage for decades of pivotal contributions.
A friend to industry and the environment
Flick's early years at Virginia Tech included work with crab and seafood processing plants all over the Eastern Seaboard but primarily in Virginia’s Tidewater area. He helped processors improve sanitation and efficiency, resulting in safer and more flavorful products for consumers. With his colleagues, he developed a blue crab pasteurization process that is still used around the world, as well as several best practices for seafood processing, packaging, and plant sanitation. Flick established the Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton in 1975.
With overfishing and habitat degradation posing a persistent concern for the wild-caught seafood industry, Flick developed relationships with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, part of William & Mary, and made Virginia Tech a founding member of the Virginia Sea Grant consortium, which was based at the University of Virginia. The consortium administered funds from the federal government to support research across Virginia.
Along the way, Flick became convinced that to protect wild fisheries and promote higher consumption of seafood, encouraging the growth of recirculating aquaculture was of vital importance. Recirculating aquaculture differs from other forms of fish farming in that all or most of the water is recaptured, cleaned, and recycled through the system. This is beneficial from an environmental standpoint and protects wild fish populations from the escape or unintentional release of domesticated species.
Successful recirculating aquaculture requires interdisciplinary knowledge, and to nurture a fledgling industry, Flick assembled the Commercial Fish and Shellfish Technologies group at Virginia Tech. The group brought together faculty from civil and environmental engineering, agricultural economics, biological systems engineering, fish and wildlife conservation, food science and technology, crop and soil environmental sciences, and biomedical sciences and pathobiology to pursue grants and conduct research that considered a fuller picture of the complexity involved. He also organized the International Conference on Recirculating Aquaculture, which was held in Roanoke every two years from 1994-2018. This conference was the only one of its kind in North America, bringing together researchers, producers, conservation and regulatory groups, and vendors to build connections and solve problems with a sound, science-based approach that made the growth of this industry possible. In 2000, Flick also established the Southwest Virginia Aquaculture Extension facility in Saltville, Virginia.
Along the way, he supported local producers such as Bill Martin, president and CEO of Blue Ridge Aquaculture, the world's largest producer of tilapia using sustainable indoor recirculating aquaculture systems. Flick worked with Martin from the early days of his business, which began under the name of Blue Ridge Fisheries in 1993 after careful planning that began in 1986.
“George was a consummate professional, extremely intelligent, always willing to roll up his sleeves and stay engaged until a problem was solved. He was someone who everyone trusted, and everyone could trust. He never lost sight of what Virginia Tech’s purpose was, to meet the needs of the community and of industry,” Martin said. “I really don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t have him working with us in those early years.”
A coalition builder
Flick’s approach was evident in the coalitions that he built with specific goals in mind. From the Commercial Fish and Shellfish Technologies group and the International Conference on Recirculating Aquaculture to the house-published International Journal of Recirculating Aquaculture o the organization of the Virginia Marine Science Consortium and Virginia Sea Grant, he knew how to get people with diverse viewpoints to listen to one another and work together.
Another example was seen in the development of the Seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) curriculum in the mid-1990s. At the time, the U.S. Department of Commerce sought to implement the new protocol for seafood safety. This science-based management system addresses food safety concerns through analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material through consumption of the finished product. The seafood industry had never had any regulations of this kind and needed reliable standards to help ensure product safety and quality. Flick teamed up with other researchers and seafood extension specialists to launch HACCP across the U.S. seafood industry. Through the Seafood HACCP Alliance, Flick and others developed a curriculum that began offering ‘train the trainer’ sessions across the country to establish and support this new goal.
The work made a significant difference in the safety of seafood products and was so successful that it encouraged the adoption of HACCP methodology across the poultry, juice, and produce industries as well.
“George was at ease with people, and this made it possible for him to see what skills and abilities different people brought to the table,” said Pamela Tom, a California Sea Grant Extension seafood academic coordinator emerita based in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. “When I started in my role at UC Davis, I would see George Flick at Sea Grant and food technology meetings. He quickly welcomed me into groups and conversations that I needed to be a part of and became a trusted advisor to me and many others.”
Flick was able to parlay the success of Seafood HACCP into a different arena, founding the Medical HACCP Alliance that promoted the use of HACCP methodology in the manufacture of medical devices. The alliance offered training and developed a cadre of trainers and ultimately resulted in the establishment of the first graduate curriculum — a Master of Science and graduate certificate — in health product risk management, which graduated its first class at Virginia Tech in 2012.
A mentor, community partner, and friend
Flick was a shining example to his colleagues, students, and the broader academic community. His passion for research and commitment to excellence were evident throughout his career, but above all, his success was predicated on his skills in team building and negotiation.
Research associate Linda Ankenman Granata edited many of Flick’s publications, most notably the 2012 second edition of “The Seafood Industry,” which was co-written by Roy E. Martin.
“You didn’t work for George you worked with George,” Granata said. “He respected people’s opinions and was the kind of person that you wanted to give 125 percent. He motivated everyone to bring their best.”
Flick and Martin also co-wrote the encyclopedic “Marine and Freshwater Products Handbook.”
In addition to many awards received at Virginia Tech, Flick was recognized as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a fellow of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). He was awarded the Myron Solberg Award from IFT, given to the person who has been instrumental in bringing academia, industry, and government together to solve food industry problems. He also received the IFT’s Lizabeth Fleming Stier Award for his pursuit of humanitarian ideals and unselfish dedication.
He received the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary's Honor Award, the USDA Secretary's Group Honor Award, the Department of the Army's Certificate of Appreciation, and the Atlantic Fisheries Technology Society's Earl P. McFee Award and Lifetime Achievement Award. His remarkable achievements culminated in his induction into the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumni Hall of Fame.
Flick was a devoted husband and father and was active in many community groups and university organizations. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Charlene Rieder Flick of Blacksburg; daughter, Lesley Moore (Thomas Glenn) of Fredericksburg; sons George (Rebecca) of Leesburg, and Jason (Timothy Jancel) of Washington, D.C.; and four grandchildren, Katelyn Moore, Allyson Moore, George (Rob) Flick, and Reese Flick. He will always be remembered as a thoughtful mentor, selfless leader, and willing friend.
On Oct. 15, Flick’s family will be hosting a celebration of his life and work. The celebration will take place in Blacksburg with an option to join the event remotely. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in attending or receiving a link to the event.