I’m not keen on obituaries, let alone writing them. But it’s hugely important to honor the character and integrity of our exemplary predecessors. After all, they are necessary role models — measuring bars for continuance of our great society.
So we honor American Agriculturist’s Editor Emeritus Gordon Conklin who peacefully passed into eternity on Dec. 27, 2016, ending his 89-year walk through life’s fields. For those of you young enough to not have experienced Gordon’s wit and wisdom, he served with humility as editor of American Agriculturist from 1961 to 1991. His editorial column closer, “The passing parade,” was inspiration for my “Bite-sized morsel.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a picture of him on the web or even in our photo files. That’s because Gordon preferred invisibility and the power of written wisdom and insight.
Even before meeting him, I knew of Conklin’s acumen and the respect given him by the Northeast agricultural community and by ag journalists across the country. He was a consummate story-teller, lacing humor with a keen perspective on farming’s realities and how it fit and didn’t fit into U.S. politics.
As his longtime friend, Don Shardlow of Trumansburg, N.Y., puts it, “Agriculture has lost a great champion. In many of his editorials, he often wrote as ‘TILIS’ (tell it like it is) and usually directed his comments to ‘the Land of Organized States.’ His remarks were predictably to the point and could be openly critical of a government policy or any other matter he felt was a disservice to commercial farmers.”
I vividly recall entering Gordon’s office after our parent company purchased American Agriculturist and I became — if you can imagine — his executive editor. Yet in gracious manner, he eased me into that role.
One of the best tributes to Gordon’s abilities came via high praise from an elderly farmer in northern New York who I met in a cornfield being harvested. For him, Gordon was the gold standard. As a younger man, this farmer had been unable to convince his mother to turn over the farm to him.
Conklin, understanding the importance and time value of land ownership, went directly to the mother. Within the hour, she was convinced and had even called an attorney to start the transfer.
Long after his retirement, I visited Gordon and wife Onolee in their village apartment. His well-worn coveralls and cap still hung on the hat pole next to the door. Boots speckled with mud plus a pruning shears lay beneath — evidence that the farm kid hadn’t been aged out of him.
In his final (January 1991) editorial column, Gordon paid tribute to his wife of 40-plus years with these well-chosen words: “Although my entire professional career has involved the choice and use of words, I shall not attempt the impossible — to adequately express my affection and respect. The day is not far off when one — then both — of us will no longer cast a shadow in the sun. But for a time, we shall continue to walk together toward the sunset — grateful for the joys of living, and for the eventual privilege of dying.”
Conklin’s life was one of service, not achievement. Well done, Gordon!
When your vocation and avocation are the same, you're extremely fortunate.