John Clover “Jack” Norris (1935)
John Clover “Jack” Norris is a native Floridian who dedicated his entire working life to the betterment of the Florida citrus industry. He was born on January 29, 1935, to John and Ellen Norris in Tampa and had two brothers, Tom and Art. In the mid-1940s, his family moved to Lake Jem in Central Florida when his father was able to get a job with W.T. Bland through his brother, Hall of Fame member Bob Norris, who was a county agent in Lake County. From seventh grade on, Jack grew up working with his father as he managed the citrus and cattle operations at W.T. Bland – laying a foundation that would come in handy later. Jack attended Mt. Dora High School where he was active in the Lake County 4-H Club, and held his first leadership position as Chairman of the County Council. He graduated in 1952 and entered the University of Florida, where he wanted to pursue a major in animal husbandry. However UF had no vet school at that time, so he switched to citrus courses and in 1956 earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in animal science and a minor in citrus. While there, he was a member of the Alpha Gamma Rho agricultural fraternity and received an ROTC Commission, serving a brief active duty stint in the U.S. Army followed by 7 years of active reserve.
His first job upon graduation was in sales with Swift and Co., where he learned a valuable lesson – he wasn’t a salesman! He launched his career in citrus production and processing when he joined Heller Bros. Packing in 1957 to plant a grove in Hardee County, but a big freeze cancelled those plans – moving him from the production operation to the packing side. W.T. Bland’s son, Bill, worked for Minute Maid at that time and gave Jack an introduction to the company, which he joined in 1959, shortly before it was acquired by Coca-Cola Foods. His first assignment was managing the nursery operations in Hardee and Highlands counties. In 1961, Minute Maid sent him to Indiantown to manage a new tract of land they had acquired and it was there that he met his wife, Kay, through a mutual friend – Timer Powers – who had actually dated Kay first! They married in Stuart on August 8, 1964 and together they have four sons: Jeffrey, Drew, Bill and John, and 8 grandchildren.
He quickly rose through the ranks at Minute Maid and it wasn’t long before he was named director of grove operations, a position he held for 13 years. Upon his promotion, his son Bill exclaimed “Dad doesn’t have to pick oranges anymore, he gets to squeeze them!”
During his tenure with Coca-Cola Foods, Jack and his team worked closely with UF/IFAS and USDA/ARS researchers, as well as private companies, to pursue innovative solutions to many of the citrus production challenges faced by growers throughout the state. Many of the first high-density plantings in Florida citrus occurred during this time, along with some of the first privately-owned mechanical harvesting equipment and various fungicide trials that developed spraying techniques for greasy spot control. During this time, Jack began to hire and mentor graduates from the University of Florida and Florida Southern College, striving, as he says, to “hire people who were smarter than I was – and I think I was successful!”
By 1986, he was working for Alandco, a subsidiary of Florida Power and Light (FP&L), as vice president of agriculture. Two years later, Jack was named President and CEO of FP&L’s Turner Foods Corporation and successfully led the operation until his retirement in 2000. Under his leadership, Turner Foods grew into one of the largest citrus growing operations in Florida and, indeed, the United States. By the early 1990s, the company had acquired approximately 20,000 acres of citrus properties in the state.
At Turner Foods, Jack continued to seek continuous improvements in grove operations as he did while with Coca-Cola Foods. But, perhaps more importantly, he continued to recruit some of the finest talent in the industry to his management team and provided them with the knowledge, tools and empowerment needed to do their jobs effectively. In doing so, he left a legacy of individuals who have followed in his footsteps as outstanding leaders of their companies and industry organizations. One prominent industry member and former member of his team echoed the sentiments of many when he said, “Under Jack’s leadership, I had the opportunity to learn from him what it truly meant to be a man of true integrity and to have a real passion for the Florida citrus industry and all that it represents.”
Despite the intense demands of his management responsibilities, Jack devoted countless hours of service to industry, educational, and civic organizations. He shared his experience and wisdom broadly, serving in a variety of volunteer leadership positions with Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Polk County Farm Bureau, Martin County Farm Bureau, Florida Orange Marketers, Florida Citrus Research Foundation, and more.
In addition to these leadership roles, Jack was also very active in other industry organizations such as the Gulf Citrus Growers Association, National Juice Products Association, and the Florida State Horticultural Society. Improving the image of agriculture and the citrus industry was a constant theme in Jack’s leadership role with industry organizations. He believed strongly that agriculture needed to step up its efforts to connect with the public on issues such as the environment and labor.
Communicating agriculture’s message to government officials was another important priority. He was quoted in one industry publication as saying, “Government regulators and legislators fail to understand agriculture and what growers try to accomplish.” He believed strongly that industry organizations needed to work together to educate governmental leaders about the role Florida growers have in providing so much of the nation’s food supply. Beyond his industry volunteerism, Jack also devoted considerable time and energy to numerous educational and civic groups. A lifelong Gator, Jack strongly supported the University of Florida and the essential role that IFAS research, extension, and teaching play in the success of the citrus industry. He served for several years on both the University of Florida Foundation and the UF/IFAS SHARE Council, including a stint as its chairman. He also played a significant role as a member of the IFAS Capital Campaign Council in the early 2000s.
Jack also strongly supported the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, which provides day care and early childhood education to the children of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers throughout Florida, and served on their board after retiring. He strongly believed in the important partnership between RCMA and agriculture and worked diligently to raise funds for the organization’s capital fundraising and charter school initiatives.
Clearly, Jack Norris has left a legacy of unselfish and dedicated service to the Florida citrus industry and served as an outstanding role model for the next generation of leaders. A presenter of one of the many awards Jack has received from organizations with which he has volunteered said: “Jack has a track record of being an asset to any organization he chooses to associate himself with and is always willing to say yes to any request that would further the cause of the organization.” Still another said, “He is without question one of the most industry-minded people I know.”
Over his four decades of service, Jack has earned wide respect and admiration for his honest integrity and quiet, but highly effective, leadership and management style. In bestowing Jack with a lifetime achievement award from one major industry organization, the presenter noted: “Anyone who knows him will tell you he is both an assertive and proficient leader, but also a gentleman and statesman.”
Therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome John C. “Jack” Norris to the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame!