Stewart, Sir Herbert Ray (1890–1989), agriculturalist, was born 10 July 1890, only son of Hugh Stewart and Rebecca Stewart (née Ray), both of Co. Down farming stock. Although born in Cambridge, Mass., USA (because of a family quarrel), he grew up in Co. Down, to which he returned aged five when Hugh's grandfather purchased for him a twenty-five-acre farm. Herbert was educated at the local primary school and Banbridge Excelsior Academy. He learned Greek, Latin, and French from the local presbyterian minister. The agricultural instructor for Co. Down – appointed by the government to improve farming methods – encouraged him to apply for one of the ten competitive scholarships offered by the Department of Agriculture for well–educated farmer's sons with practical farming experience. He was successful and in June 1915 obtained the diploma of Associate of the Royal College of Science for Ireland which carried with it the B.Sc. of the NUI. At the same time he obtained the national diploma in agriculture of the Royal Agricultural Society of England and the Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland, thereby qualifying for an agricultural appointment in either Great Britain or Ireland. On completing his studies he joined the army, serving first with the Army Service Corps as a purchasing officer and later with the 6th Bn, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. This unit was annihilated, leaving him the sole surviving officer, and he was then posted to the 7th Bn, Somerset Light Infantry, from which he was demobilised with the rank of captain (1919). He then went on to study at Imperial College in London, from which he obtained a diploma (1920). On the advice of his professor, Sir John Farmer, FRS, he successfully applied for a position in India.
On arrival in Bombay in December 1920 he was posted to the Punjab Agricultural College, where he became professor of agriculture (1921), and in 1924 principal of the college in addition to the chair he already held. He oversaw a very considerable extension of the college's teaching and research facilities. He was personally interested in farm economics and developed a system of farm accounting which led to his being awarded an M.Sc. by the NUI. In 1927 the governor of the Punjab (later Lord Hailey) appointed him assistant director of agriculture, and in 1932 he became director. With the directorship, which he held for the next ten years, went many honours. He was appointed a fellow of the university of the Punjab and dean of its faculty of agriculture, and from time to time he was nominated to the legislative council; in addition he represented the Punjab on the Indian Central Cotton Committee in Bombay and at the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research in Delhi and was awarded the CIE (1939). In 1943 the government of India requested his appointment as agricultural commissioner, and a year later he was appointed vice-chairman of the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research – an appointment usually held by an administrator rather than (as he considered himself) a technician. This gave him an unrivalled experience of Indian agriculture throughout the sub-continent, and in 1946 he was knighted.
Although he had now reached the usual retirement age the Indian government wanted him to stay on for two years. However, the British foreign secretary offered him the position of agricultural adviser to the British Middle East Office, which was then being set up in Cairo, for an initial three-year term with an optional extension of another three years. The viceroy of India, Lord Wavell, left the decision to him and he accepted – a very fortunate decision in November 1946, as he was unaware that within nine months India would be independent and partitioned. He found his new role in Cairo, which was purely advisory, dull; and following the Arab–Jewish war in 1948 the United Nations set up a small mission to advise on the resettlement of the 900,000 Arabs who had fled to neighbouring Arab countries, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq. Sir Herbert was seconded as agricultural adviser. This mission was based in Beirut and it was hoped that the problem would be temporary; instead it proved frustrating, particularly in view of the irresolvable situation in Palestine, but it did provide an opportunity to extend his knowledge of agriculture in countries hitherto unknown to him. He returned to England in 1952 and from 1952 to 1954 was the director of a small American business firm. However, he did not enjoy being a businessman, and early in 1955 he was approached by the World Bank to lead a mission to Colombia. This was the first of a number of missions under the auspices of the World Bank – to Pakistan, Italy, Yugoslavia, Uganda, and Kenya. He finally retired in 1962.
Sir Herbert married twice. When he was a student in Dublin he was drawn into the circle of presbyterians whom Dr J. C. Johnston (qv) of the Abbey Church gathered round him, and here he met Johnston's niece, Eva Rea. They were married in 1917 and had one surviving child, Cynthia, who married (May 1948) Sir John Barnes, KCMG. Eva Stewart died in 1955, and in 1957 Sir Herbert married Elsie Pyne, who survived him. Sir Herbert died on 3 February 1989, in his ninety-ninth year, after a long retirement, and he is buried in Ballyronney presbyterian churchyard; his obituary in the Guardian declared that: ‘to the end of his life he remained an Ulster presbyterian and kept his Ulster burr’. Perhaps his most dominant characteristic was his capacity to focus thoroughly and absolutely – almost to the point of tunnel vision – on the task in hand.