Dr. W. Bernard “Bernie” Lester (1939)
- Florida Department of Citrus
- Brazilian Importation
- Fruit Adulteration
- Alico, Inc.
Bernard Lester was born on January 9, 1939 in Havana, Florida to Duncan and Edith Lester. Lester grew up around agriculture on a shade tobacco farm. Lester attended Havana High School. In high school, he was a member of the Future Farmers of America. He also was involved in numerous other leadership roles. He was the captain of his baseball team and he was senior class president. He participated in Parliamentary Procedures and Public Speaking. He also became an Eagle Scout. Immediately after High School, Lester enlisted with the Army Reserves Program. While in the Reserves, Lester attended the University of Florida, where he received his degree in Agricultural Economics and Poultry Sciences. While in college, he met and married his wife, Elaine Purnell. Lester received his masters in Agricultural Economics in 1962 from UF, and then received his Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics from Texas A&M in 1965. A year later, Bernie and Elaine Lester had their first child, Mark Lester.
Lester joined the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC) as Research Economist in 1966, became Economic Research Director in 1969, and was named Executive Director of FDOC in 1979. Lester left FDOC in 1986, and moved to Alico, Inc., as Deputy Executive Vice President to one of the State’s largest growers’ organizations. He became Executive Vice President in 1988 and President in 1997, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 2005. He also served as a member of the Alico Board of Directors from 1987 to 2005.
As Executive Director of the FDOC, he led the industry through some of its most challenging years. He was able to bring consensus over some very complex and controversial issues. For example, after a series of devastating freezes, he convinced reluctant growers to allow in Brazilian imports during a shortage of Florida citrus. He also helped end out-of-state juice adulturation. He helped the FDOC through some of Florida’s diseases, freezes, advertisement issues, growers’ taxes, and other economic issues.
Lester served on countless boards and committees. He was on the board of directors for numerous organizations: Orange-Co. Inc., Agri-Insurance Co., Saddlebag Lake Resorts, Sugarland Harvesting Co., Florida Land Council, and Florida Fresh-Pak. He also served the Gulf Citrus Growers Association as Secretary and Member of the Board of Directors from 1989 to 2004.
Lester helped facilitate learning environments for students. He was on the Board of Trustees at Florida Gulf Coast University from 2001-2010. The Lester family also established endowed scholarships at Florida Gulf Coast University and at the University of Florida.
Lester’s active involvement in various citrus programs and his economic guidance has earned him a position as a 2012 Florida Citrus Hall of Fame Inductee.