The cattle industry said goodbye to two of its greatest pioneers and champions recently. W.D. Farr, 97, of Greeley, CO, and Fred Johnson, 91, of Summitville, OH, left behind a remarkable legacy of achievement, vision and leadership.
Farr was one of the founders of modern-day cattle feeding. But his contributions to agriculture extended to uniform beef grading, water conservation and management, and banking and finance.
Johnson established Summitcrest Farms in 1949, and its champion breeding cattle developed into a world-recognized brand. In 1978, he helped found Certified Angus Beef® and served as chairman its first six years.
As we bid farewell to these wonderful friends and colleagues — and we see around us the incredible contributions they made to the cattle industry — it causes me to wonder: Who will be this century's W.D. Farr? Who will be this century's Fred Johnson?
I don't ask these questions out of doubt or skepticism. On the contrary, I encounter an incredible amount of talent, energy and leadership every day — from men and women of all ages active in our industry. But sometimes I wonder if these talented individuals can really see what I see. Can they envision themselves making such indelible marks on the cattle industry? Can they really see themselves making American agriculture better and stronger for future generations?
These men showed us that greatness isn't the exclusive domain of high-profile, powerful individuals. In meeting either of them, you could easily picture them as your neighbor from down the road. Yet their remarkable achievements and contributions belied their humble, unassuming natures.
Author Linda Ellis crafted the beautiful eulogy poem entitled “The Dash.” She points out that, while a tombstone always includes a date of birth and death, it is the dash between those numbers that really matters. She wrote:
So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.
So when your eulogy is being read
With your life's actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
We can wait for others to shape the future and direction of the cattle industry, as well as the communities we call home. Or like W.D. Farr and Fred Johnson, we can display the leadership necessary to take command of our own destiny.
By my calculation, this duo spent 150 years between them as visionary leaders of their communities, and working tirelessly to make the cattle industry stronger and more prosperous for generations to come. The rest of us have a lot of catching up to do — and there's no time like today to get started.
Terry Stokes is CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.