BARTOW, Fla. (December 10, 2021) – The Selection Committee for The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame has announced three distinguished leaders who will be inducted into the Hall during the 60th Citrus Celebration Luncheon tentatively scheduled for Friday, November 4, 2022 at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
George F. Hamner, Jr., of Vero Beach, Fla., will be the 200th member inducted to the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in the fall of 2022, along with the posthumous inductions of A. Tillis Edwards, Jr. and Edward A. Taylor, both formerly of Lakeland, Fla. All three will be honored at the luncheon, which was moved to the fall due to the pandemic.
Tillis Edwards was a lifelong citrus man and a native of Lakeland. He started at age 18 in 1937 going door-to-door buying backyard citrus for his father’s citrus business, Edwards-Pritchett-Tillis, Inc. From that simple start, Edwards expanded the single business into a vertically integrated conglomerate of companies so that by the 1960’s he was well known across the citrus belt as a harvester-handler-packer-processor-grower. He was president of Edwards Packing Co., vice-president of Florida Sip, Inc., a citrus processing plant in Plant City, Fla., and handled over 1,000 acres of groves as vice-president of Edwards Groves, Inc. He was president or vice-president for multiple industry organizations, including Florida Orange Marketers, Quality Orange Marketers, H.P. Hood & Sons concentrate plant in Dunedin, and Intermediate Harvesters and Handlers Association. He was also a member of the Florida Fresh Citrus Shippers Association and the Cotton Exchange Board, where he worked to establish orange juice as a traded commodity on the exchange.
In 1967, he was appointed by Governor Claude Kirk to the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC), where heserved until 1971. In 1969, Edwards was a member of the FCC’s Disney World Committee where he was instrumental in securing the Disney promotional agreement, which FCC’s chairman lauded as “one of the most significant events in our citrus history.”
During WWII, he was a civilian flight instructor to British pilots at Lodwick School of Aeronautics in Lakeland. An avid hunter, fisherman and champion golfer, he won both the Cleveland Heights Golf Club championship and the Polk County amateur championship.
George Hamner has been a workhorse for Florida’s fresh segment for 43 years, providing active leadership to the Florida citrus industry by working closely with state and federal agencies to help bridge governmental, regulatory, grower and shipper communities. He has successfully led his family’s fresh fruit packing business, Indian River Exchange Packers, Inc. through all of the ups and downs of the citrus industry during the past five tumultuous decades, while volunteering his time in numerous industry organizations. Hamner has served as President of Florida Citrus Packers, Chairman of Citrus Administrative Committee, board member of New Varieties Development & Management Corp., President of Florida Citrus Mutual, President and Board member of Indian River Citrus League and member of the Florida Citrus Canker Technical Advisory Task Force. He has hosted trade missions, senior state and federal politicians, international regulatory review teams, emergency response investigators, and more to ensure a viable and sustainable industry. As President of Florida Citrus Mutual in the aftermath of NAFTA, he helped redirect the organization’s stated purpose in becoming the lead lobbying group for Florida citrus in both Tallahassee and Washington. His knowledge of the rules and regulations governing the fresh segment of the Florida citrus industry helped tremendously in updating those regulations, and his gift of leading meetings and bringing all the fresh fruit entities to a consensus was key to the success of modernizing the industry. He was the driving force to develop the PIQ program that saved growers millions of dollars in inspection fees, while maintaining strict quality standards, and was instrumental in expanding sales by helping to develop the protocol for shipping fruit to export markets.
He also worked tirelessly to develop and prove that packinghouse wastewater was not harmful and did not require onerous and expensive testing. Always engaged in industry issues, Hamner was never shy about voicing his opinion, passion, and enthusiasm for the betterment of the Florida citrus industry.
Ed Taylor (1920-1988) was the first Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) Executive Director that had professional marketing expertise, and he implemented programs which were based on solid market research, resulting in moving an annual citrus crop that ranged from 108 million boxes when he started in 1963, to 235 million boxes in 1978. Taylor was responsible for creative marketing programs that included the iconic “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine” slogan, the Florida Sunshine Tree symbol – which is still in use today, hiring Anita Bryant to be the spokeswoman for Florida citrus which made Florida OJ the national breakfast beverage, establishing a School Marketing Program for Florida OJ and a foodservice program that included McDonald’s serving orange juice as part of its breakfast menu for the first time. He also marketed Florida grapefruit and frozen concentrated orange juice internationally through participation in a Third-Party Cooperation Plan with the United States Department of Agriculture (which still exists today). By the mid-1970s the Commission had 53 partnerships in 10 countries in Europe and Eastern Europe, eventually adding Scandinavia and Japan. His emphasis on marketing also led to the FDOC sponsoring the Sunshine Pavilion at Walt Disney World and the creation of the much-loved Orange Bird character. When Taylor stepped down in 1978, Florida citrus had one of the highest recognition factors in the food industry. His dedication to the Florida citrus industry and his strong, aggressive orange juice marketing program was developed and implemented with his oversight and “hands-on supervision” during a period of unparalleled growth in the industry. Under his leadership, Florida citrus became a staple in the American diet, and in diets in many other countries throughout the world as a result of his efforts.
The Florida Citrus Hall of Fame honors distinguished leaders who have made significant contributions to the Florida citrus industry. The Citrus Hall of Fame display and Archives Center is located within the Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay, Jr. Archives Center building at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. For more information on members of the Citrus Hall of Fame, visit the web site at www.FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com, which includes access to biographies and photos on all members, noting their accomplishments, as well as numerous Oral History Videos with longtime industry members.
Tickets to the luncheon will go on sale in January. Co-sponsored by Florida Citrus Mutual and The Florida Department of Citrus, are $125 for Patron Seating or $1,700 for a Sponsor Table, which includes preferred seating for 8, table signage and a listing in the program. The event will be followed by the Florida Citrus Processors’ Association’s OJ “Meet & Greet” with the inductees as they unveil their names on the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Tree, located in the Sara D. and L. Kirk McKay Archives Center. A portion of the proceeds from all ticket sales will go to fund an Educational Outreach program to help promote the history of the Florida citrus industry.
To purchase tickets in January, please call Florida Citrus Mutual at (863) 682-1111 or visit the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame website at www.FloridaCitrusHallofFame.com. For more information on sponsorship opportunities, please contact Brenda Eubanks Burnette at (561) 351-4314 or via email at [email protected].