John T. Lesley (1910-2003)
Haines City Growers Association
Florida Citrus Mutual
Florida Citrus Exchange
Sealdsweet Growers, Inc.
Food & Agricultural Organization
Florida Citrus Commission
Fresh Fruit & Trade Advisory Committee
Florida Fresh Citrus Shippers Association
National Agricultural Research & Advisory Committee
National Council of Farm Cooperatives
Natural Research Advisory Committee
Central Bank for Cooperatives
John T. Lesley was born in Kissimmee on October 6, 1910. Even before Lesley made his name in citrus, his family name was already well known due to his father and grandfather’s contribution to Tampa’s developments. Lesley attended Riverside Military Academy before studying at the University of Florida and Florida Southern College.
Lesley began his citrus career in 1935 when he accepted a position in the produce department of the Haines City Citrus Growers Association (HCCGA). The following year, he married Louise Norton, with whom he would have three children. Lesley became secretary/treasurer of HCCGA and later general manager in 1942. He also became vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual in 1948.
The experience in production and management that Lesley gained with HCCGA lead to a bigger opportunity in Tampa, where his family had made its mark many years before. Lesley became the general manager of the Florida Citrus Exchange in 1951. In his role with the Citrus Exchange, which became known as Seald Sweet Growers after 1969, Lesley became a strong proponent of fresh fruit marketing, which benefitted not only the corporation, but the entire Florida citrus industry as a whole. In 1960, he served as an industry advisor to the United States Delegation at the first session of Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Madrid. He later became part of the delegation which went to the 1969 meeting in Rome, and he had roles in later FAO meetings in Sicily and Athens as well.
In 1971, Lesley was appointed to the Florida Citrus Commission. He served with the Fresh Fruit and Trade Advisory Committee. He was also president of the Florida Fresh Citrus Shippers Association, a trustee of the Florida Citrus Research Foundation, a member of the National Agricultural Research and Advisory Committee of the United States Department of Agriculture, a member of the Farm Bureau, a director of the National Council of Farm Cooperatives, a member of the Natural Research Advisory Committee of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Lesley also developed a lengthy list of associations within the banking world, acting as vice chairmen of the Central Bank for Cooperatives, a director of the Farm Credit Banks of Columbia, a director of the Marine Bank and Trust Company, and a member of First Florida Bancorporation. He also served on the board of directors for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and was involved in the Tampa Chamber of Commerce as well. He also participated in the Rotary Club, was a director of the Tampa Southern Railroad, and participated in the Committee of 100.
John T. Lesley was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 1978.