Sir Ralph Riley was a leader in UK science. He rose to hold the office of Secretary (Chief Executive) and Deputy Chairman of the Agriculture and Food Research Council (now the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) after having gained a substantial reputation in plant genetics, and cereal crop cytogenetics in particular. His wisdom and experience were widely recognized at home and abroad, including in developing countries where the needs for more food from enhanced agricultural productivity are so great. In the UK his vision in genetics led to the establishment of major national research programmes in molecular and cell biology in agricultural contexts, actions that put the UK in the forefront of these subjects. When he died at the age of nearly 75 years he was still serving the agricultural research programmes for the world's poor with his enthusiasm and beliefs that improved crop production grows from high-quality, multidisciplinary research.