Botanical quality control specialist Bill Popin passed away on April 12, 2014, at the age of 59 following complications from cardiac arrest and a stroke. Born in San Francisco, California, Bill received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in botany from Brigham Young University (BYU)1 and was immediately hired by Nature’s Herbs® (acquired in 1989 by TwinLab®) as head of quality control while still in his post-graduate course of study.
“When I hired him [in 1977], we were a small company, no more than 20 people,” said Steve Welling, COO of FutureBiotics and former CEO of Nature’s Herbs (oral communication, June 12, 2014). “By the time he left, he had a staff of 30. He had a very black-and-white way of looking at things and he was a scientist at heart. That’s what you look for in quality control.”
Popin held rigorous standards for the quality of herbal products and truly believed in their efficacy when used correctly. While working for Nature’s Herbs, he wrote an editorial (incorrectly attributed as “William Poppin”) for The Deseret News decrying an earlier article that questioned the safety, use, and value of herbal medicine.2 Many friends and colleagues believed that his unwavering commitment to maintaining the highest production values for herbal supplements and using high-quality botanical raw materials was a constant driving force in his career, and that he worked hard to raise the level of quality within the industry.
“Bill was an expert in and committed to the field of botany,” wrote Grace Lyn Rich, director of trade marketing at FutureBiotics and a former colleague of Popin (email, June 11, 2014). “While at Nature’s Herbs, Bill and I had the opportunity to serve on several management committees as we all worked to cultivate the acceptance and use of herbal medicine and grow the business.”
Popin helped establish the first in-house laboratory at Nature’s Herbs before moving on to quality control at Young Living Essential Oils in 2001. “Bill was a genuine pioneer in the botanical space helping Nature’s Herbs and the industry to build on a traditional foundation with technical insight,” wrote Welling (email, June 10, 2014).
“He was instrumental to our growth: he knew a lot but had an insatiable curiosity,” Welling said (oral communication, June 12, 2014). “He was also skilled at networking in the industry, which I saw as a continued willingness to learn.” Bill continued working in the quality control sector, at Young Living and then at Agel Enterprises LLC, a dietary supplement supplier.
Popin began volunteering with the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) in 1995 as a member of the Advisory Panel on Identification and Standardization of Natural Products, and his contributions helped shape USP’s new monographs for botanical dietary supplements following Congressional approval of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. “He made enormous contributions to USP designing, writing and reviewing the general chapters <2030> Supplemental Information for Articles of Botanical Origin and <563> Identification of Articles of Botanical Origin,” wrote Gabriel Giancaspro, PhD, director of USP’s Dietary Supplements in the Latin American Specialist Standards Division (email, July 15, 2014).
From 2005 to 2010, Popin served as chair of the USP General Chapters Expert Committee for Dietary Supplements. Dr. Giancaspro explained: “In this capacity, he was very instrumental in the development of the 2009 and 2012 editions of the USP Dietary Supplements Compendium…. He patiently reviewed many of the photographs that are part of the Illustration section of the book, which I consider one of the most important features that contributed to the success of this publication. He was always very proud of his association with USP, and USP was also honored and grateful for his many contributions to our standards.”
Colleagues remember Bill for his kindness, sense of humor, and dedication to his family and church.
“Bill embodied the spirit of generosity in everything he did,” wrote Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance and a friend of Popin from high school (email to M. Blumenthal, July 10, 2014). “He smoked salmon (a closely held recipe for the smoke) and gave it to his friends, [along with] old articles from newspapers he seemed to have found somewhere, and even a box full of 100-year-old USDA botanical voucher specimens about to be thrown out by a university botany department.”
Popin was also very competitive and athletic; he earned a full scholarship to BYU for his accomplishments in football and track. At BYU, he played football as a defensive back wearing jersey #19.3 Welling recalled him as a great family man who doted on his children and was esteemed for his work in the church as much as in the field of herbal medicine. “There was one thing he wouldn’t laugh about,” said Welling, “and that was compromising quality.” His death came as a surprise to many due to its sudden nature. “We miss him. He’s gone way too soon. It was a shock,” Welling said.
Friends and family celebrated Bill’s life on April 15, 2014, in Orem, Utah. Bill Popin is survived by his wife, Koleen; his children James Popin, Jennelle Popin, and Camille Thompson; and two grandchildren.1
- William (Bill) Fred Popin. Daily Herald. April 13, 2014. Available at: www.heraldextra.com/lifestyles/announcements/obituaries/william-bill-fred-popin/article_19d0486f-5ab6-5415-b700-3ae398a4c386.html. Accessed June 13, 2014.
- Popin W. Herbs: a study in fact and folklore. The Deseret News. September 8, 1982: 4C. Available at: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=336&dat=19820907&id=SjcpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=H4MDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7068,1840810. Accessed June 16, 2014.
- BYU Cougar Club. Bill Popin. Available at: http://cougarclub.com/athlete/m-football/bill-popin. Accessed June 13, 2014.