Doyle Conner (1928)
Florida Speaker of the House
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture
Mediterranean Fruit Fly
Southern Association of State Department of Agriculture
National Association of State Department of Agriculture
A fifth generation Floridian, Doyle Conner was born in Starke, Florida. His family raised cattle, grew strawberries, and cut timber. As a boy Conner worked hard on the farm. At the age of 14, while attending a 4-H forestry camp, Conner met the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nathan Mayo. This meeting impressed Conner greatly; he soon proclaimed he wanted to succeed Mayo as Florida Agricultural Commissioner when Mayo’s term expired. Conner served as the president of his local 4-H club and eventually became president of the local and Alachua County branches of the 4-H Club. As a student Conner was also very active in Future Farmers of America group, serving as the president of the organization on the state and national levels.
After graduating from high school in 1947, he enrolled in the University of Florida. While at the university, Conner decided to run for the Florida House of Representatives for Bradford County. Even though he was too young to vote, he was able to register shortly before the election, and was elected. He served in the Florida House for ten years, becoming the youngest Speaker of the House at the age of 28 in 1957.
While serving in the House, he promoted agriculture by introducing laws to assist farmers, including the Green Belt Law. Legislation he sponsored also helped establish agricultural labs that helped stamp out cattle fever tick and the Mediterranean fruit fly. He also was a member of a commission that studied Nathan Mayo’s Department of Agriculture, which decided a re-organization of the Department was needed.
In 1960 Conner was elected Florida Commissioner of Agriculture. He took office on January 2, 1961, becoming one of the youngest persons to serve in that position in any state. Some of his first duties involved making appointments for the advisory committees that would oversee the re-organization of the Department of Agriculture.
Conner made the marketing of Florida agriculture the focus of his first campaign, helping farmers to market a wide variety of produce. The eradication of harmful diseases was also very important to Conner. He cited the handling of the Mediterranean fruit fly eradication as a high point during his time as the Commissioner of Agriculture. Conner also prided himself in maintaining quality employees to work in the Department of Agriculture. While serving as Commissioner, he also served as the president of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
Conner served as the Commissioner of Agriculture for 30 years, retiring in 1991. During his career, Conner maintained close ties with the University of Florida. In 1971 he served as the president of the University of Florida National Alumni Association, and was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1972. The university still maintains a scholarship fund in honor of Conner, which is awarded to students from Florida who are active leaders in FFA or 4-H groups.
During his life and career, Conner received numerous awards. When he was still a young politician in the Florida House, he became known as the “Boy Wonder of Florida Politics.” He was also named as an Outstanding Farmer in Bradford County. The Florida Bicentennial Commission selected him as a Florida Patriot in 1976. In 1980 he was honored by the US Department of Agriculture with both the Agricultural Service Certificate of Merit and the Superior Service Award. In honor of his work to create trade between Venezuela and Florida, he was honored with the Order of Francisco de Miranda, Venezuela’s highest award.
Three buildings have been named for Conner: The Doyle Conner Building in Moore Haven, the Doyle Conner Auditorium in Gainesville and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Administration Complex.
Conner was honored in 1985 when he was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame. His contributions to the Florida citrus industry also earned him a place in the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 1991.
After retiring from the Department of Agriculture in 1991, Conner devoted his time to his farm and ranch in Jefferson County with his wife Laurita, while still making himself available in Tallahassee should his services in promoting Florida Agriculture ever be needed. He is remembered for his gentlemanly manners, his love of western suits and boots and his unwavering commitment to Florida’s farmers and agriculture.