What was listed on the program as "Dinner" at the summer meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at Branson turned into a night of surprises, reminiscing, and praise for his 17-year service to the five-state organization.
Todd, who was originally hired to sell exhibit space for the association's annual Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, two years later succeeded Bob Collins as its executive vice president. He retired Aug. 1.
"He has been a super salesman for agriculture and the ginning industry," said David Blakemore, SCGA president. "There have been a lot of changes in the ginning industry, with a drastic decline in numbers. Lee has worked tirelessly to increase our association membership. Two states, Missouri and Tennessee, have 100 percent membership; the other three states have 90 percent-plus."
The yearly Gin Show at Memphis has grown from 80,000 square feet to more than 200,000 square feet during Todd's tenure. "This year marked our 51st show, and it just keeps getting bigger and better," Blakemore said.
Under his leadership, the Southern Cotton Ginners Foundation was established to fund research programs critical to the cotton industry. And a gin safety program, under the direction of Safety Director Larry Davis, is recognized as "one of the best in the nation," Blakemore said.
"The association has been a strong supporter of the Gin Technology Management program at Mississippi State University," said Eugene Columbus, senior research associate in the Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department. "Lee has done a tremendous job on behalf of the ginning industry."
Todd is succeeded as executive vice president by Tim Price, a Louisiana native with 25 years' experience in agricultural marketing, economics, legislation, and international policy. He most recently served as executive director of governmental affairs and commodities for the Illinois Farm Bureau.
"I've never known of an association so focused on its members and their needs," Price said. "It's a tribute to Lee and his leadership and the excellent working relationship he has had with our members."
Price also paid tribute to Todd's wife, Merle, for her assistance with association functions and the annual Gin Show. "Merle's always been there, helping people to find booths, calming lost kids, smoothing ruffled feathers. They're a great team."
Among gifts presented to the Todds during the evening was an original water color of Lee's boyhood home at Bells, Tenn., commissioned by the association "in appreciation for what you've meant to us." The painting, done from old photographs by noted southern artist Jack Deloney, is named for his parents, "Lee and Ruby's Pretty House."
SCGA Treasurer Dick Bransford presented a travel certificate and the title to the auto that had been leased for Lee. "We hope you enjoy many happy trips in the years ahead," he said.
Bill Mayfield, retired USDA Extension cotton specialist, now consultant for the SCGA, presented a framed cover of the Tennessee Future Farmers of America magazine which had a cover photo of Lee when he was elected vice president of the national FFA. He also was a second place winner in the national FFA public speaking competition.
"Even though we grew up in the same area, I didn't know Lee until about 20 years ago," Mayfield said. "My mother never threw anything away, and when I was going through some things at her house I ran across the old magazine. What a coincidence!"
As a surprise for Lee's going-away, arrangements had been made for members of his family to come to Branson for the evening's festivities. They were his three children, David, a physician at Lufkin, Texas; Janet, a graphic artist at San Antonio; and Robert, a state parole/probation officer at Bells, Tenn.; and Lee's brother, Mainord Todd, Dallas.
"These years have afforded me the opportunity to know and work with some of the finest people in the Mid-South," Todd said. "Everything that has been accomplished is a tribute to the outstanding people who've been a part of this organization over the years and have worked diligently in its behalf. I've also had tremendous help and encouragement from the association staff — Ann Hairston, Larry Davis, Mary Stice, and Carmen Griffin.
"Under Tim Price's leadership, the association is beginning a new chapter of even greater achievements."
For more information and photos of Lee Todd's retirement "dinner," see the Aug. 8 issue of the Delta Farm Press.