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Renewing Old Friendships At NCC Annual Meeting

Tommy Horton

By Tommy Horton, Editor

As I have mentioned in this space before, the U.S. cotton industry has a rich history that is always on full display at the National Cotton Council Annual Meeting each year. That was the case again at the meeting at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis just a few weeks ago. Call me sentimental or nostalgic, but it’s hard to put into words how special it is to meet cotton friends that I haven’t seen in many years. Maybe it was because of the retirements of long-time staffers John Maguire and Mark Lange, but a large number of cotton industry persons showed up at this meeting.

It was a particular pleasure to spend time with two persons – Mississippi producer Bruce Brumfield and former NCC executive vice president Earl Sears. When I think about people who have always been willing to share their time, these two are at the top of the list.

Brumfield was president of the NCC in 1994, and when I think about how he juggled farm and business responsibilities in Inverness, Miss., it’s hard to believe he could manage his time so well that year. But, like every NCC industry leader who has been in that situation, he succeeded because of his own commitment and the help of a loyal NCC staff. If you have ever been around Brumfield, you know that he has an engaging personality that can make any person feel comfortable. As a member of the NCC’s Communications Department in the 1980s and 1990s, I can recall his willingness to answer any question I might have for him when I’d call unexpectedly to do a radio interview.

I also recall that nobody had more patience than Brumfield. On one occasion, I traveled with the NCC’s video crew (Ed Wood and Mike Dougherty) to tape an interview at his office in Inverness. After spending several hours on the project, we finally completed it to everyone’s satisfaction. Not once did Bruce complain about how much time we had taken. And, like a true Southern gentleman, he then gave us specific instructions on where we could find a good place to eat lunch on our way back to Memphis.

That is typical of the kind of person Bruce was in those days and still is today. So, you can imagine how it felt to spend some time talking to him before the general session of the NCC Annual Meeting was about to begin. We tried to cover a lot of topics in a few minutes. And, he even invited me to drop in for a visit the next time I was driving through his part of Mississippi. I hope to do that when I’m near Inverness in the coming months.

As for Earl Sears, all I can say is that I will always be grateful to him for taking a chance on me in the summer of 1985 and offering me a job. For someone who had no prior experience in ag journalism, Earl and the NCC took a big chance in offering me an opportunity to join the Communication staff. I had been a newspaper sports writer for 13 years and a PR director for a Memphis pro football team for two years. In my opinion, the real reason I was given an opportunity is because Memphis cotton merchant Billy Dunavant owned the football team (Memphis Showboats). And, as luck would have it, Earl was a big fan of the Showboats. Beyond that, my knowledge of the cotton industry was practically non-existent.

Fast forward to today, and you could say that I owe anything I know about the cotton industry to Earl. After 13 ½ years at the NCC and now 16 years at Cotton Farming, I will always be appreciative to him. It had been several years since I had seen Earl, and it was a special treat also to talk with David Sears (Earl’s son). We reminisced about the old days in the 1980s and the many experiences that we had shared together.

Imagine my surprise when Earl told me that he reads the Editor’s Note column every month in Cotton Farming. That made me nervous just thinking about it. No matter how much time passes by, I will always cherish the friendships with Earl Sears and Bruce Brumfield and will never forget their thoughtfulness.

The US cotton industry is made up of a lot of very special people – and these are two of them.