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Bill Mayfield remembered for kindness, contributions to the cotton industry.

Ron Smith, Editor

February 29, 2024

4 Min Read
Ron Smith, Bill Mayfield, Mike Dennison
Auburn University Extension entomologist Ron Smith with former Extension ag engineer, the late bill Mayfield, and former Extension specialist Mike Dennison got together last spring for an Extension reunion shortly before Mayfield’s death. Ron Smith, Auburn Extension

At its annual 2024 awards banquet the Southern Cotton Ginners Association named its Memorial Scholarship in honor of the late Bill Mayfield.

The people who knew Bill Mayfield the best remember him as a dedicated and tireless worker, passionate about agriculture (especially cotton), loyal, confident, honest, and a kindhearted, good man.

Bill was killed in a boating accident last spring. He was 79.  He leaves a legacy of career accomplishments, respect from colleagues, and countless friends.

He grew up on the family farm in Silerton, Tenn., and was the first in his family to earn a college degree.

He graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Engineering and earned a master's degree in Agricultural Engineering from Mississippi State.

He had a distinguished career largely devoted to improving the U.S. cotton industry. He served five years at the U.S. Cotton Ginning Laboratory in Stoneville, Miss. and six years with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service in Auburn. He rejoined USDA and served for 18 years as the National Program Leader for Cotton with the USDA Extension Service in Memphis, Tenn.

Born leader

Auburn University Extension Entomologist Ron Smith said Bill was “honest, independent, determined, confident, loyal, a born leader with the ability to make things happen. He was not afraid to be different and was aggressive in a positive way.

“Bill and I go back to the 1970s,” Smith added, “when we were both specialists with the Auburn Extension Service. We also played intramural sports together.”

Regardless of time and distance, Smith said they remained close friends. “After Bill left Auburn, it would sometimes be a decade between crossing paths, but our friendship never missed a beat. When we met again it was just as we had last talked, That’s the kind of friendship we shared and it shows what kind of a person Bill was — once a friend, always a friend.

“Bill Mayfield was one of the most unforgettable persons I have ever known. Bill and I were just ‘two country boys’ who excelled in our careers.”

Sledge Taylor, president at Como Consolidated Gin Co., Inc., Como, Miss., said, “Speaking as a cotton ginner, Bill's contributions to our industry were tremendously important. Among many others, these included the cotton ginner schools, the cotton ginner certification program, and the annual Beltwide Cotton Ginners Conference - along with numerous publications, seminars and videos on efficient gin operation, gin safety, fiber quality, cottonseed storage and air quality.”

Advocate for cotton

Taylor said Bill was “a dedicated and tireless worker and an advocate for U.S. cotton. Bill Mayfield set an exceptional example for others to follow. His helpful attitude and love of the outdoors will always be remembered.” 

“He was an advocate for cotton, especially cotton ginning, there's no doubt about that,” said Tommy Valco, former USDA cotton technology and transfer coordinator, now retired.

Valco said Bill is credited for starting the ginning schools at the three USDA national gin labs in Stoneville, Lubbock, and Las Cruces.

“Bill was passionate about everything he did. He didn't like to text. He didn't get on Facebook. He didn't do the social media things a lot of people do now. A good old-fashioned phone call or a face-to-face meeting was how he communicated. He was trustworthy. When Bill said he'd do something, it would get done.”

Valco said he admired how Bill included people with different ideas and different opinions in programs he worked with. “He wanted to make certain important programs continued after him. Sometimes it’s easier to do things by yourself, but Bill tried to keep other people involved. He believed in the committee approach.”

Valco said in addition to Bill’s many professional accomplishment, he was just a good man. “Bill had a knack for making you feel at home and he was always interested in what you were doing.

“I also have to remember his passion for fishing.”

Bill’s obituary cited his kindness and generosity, support for family, friends and his love for farming, hunting, and fishing. He’s also remembered as the family storyteller, Silerton town historian and “maintaining an undefeated record against his grandchildren in checkers.”

On a personal note from this writer. Bill Mayfield cared about people. In 1980, Bill introduced me to a young lady who lived across the street from him. He thought we might get along.  A tad more than 43 years later, Pat and I are getting along well.

 The last conversations I had with Bill was at the Gin Show. He commented on a column I had written that mentioned my family. He said, “you know, I was just thinking that maybe I had a little bit to do with that.”

You certainly did, Bill, and I will always be grateful.

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About the Author(s)

Ron Smith

Editor, Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 30 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Denton, Texas. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and two grandsons, Aaron and Hunter.

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