A Tribute to Doyle Conner
Doyle E. Conner – December 17, 1928 – December 16, 2012
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, 1961-1991
The Honorable Doyle Edward Conner, Sr., 83, passed away Sunday, December 16, 2012, one day before his 84th birthday.
“Our state has lost a great Floridian with the passing of Doyle Conner. An overachiever from the beginning, Doyle was in college when elected to the state House, rose to be the youngest Speaker of the House ever and served as Commissioner of Agriculture for 30 years.
“While on the Cabinet, Doyle fiercely protected the rights of the Cabinet members while counseling seven Governors. He brought a passion for the land and the needs of Florida farmers and ranchers to his role and tirelessly promoted Florida Agriculture around the world. He modernized the Department of Agriculture and championed its evolution to include Consumer Service responsibilities.
“Throughout his career, Doyle mentored thousands of young people who went on to take leadership roles in industry, the department and public service. He made youth leadership development opportunities a priority and has been recognized by 4-H, FFA and Alpha Gamma Rho agricultural fraternity for his generosity over the course of his life.”
“Doyle was a mentor to me and defined the role of Commissioner of Agriculture for all others to follow. My prayers are with his family and the thoughts of the entire department are on him at this time.”
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam
Doyle Conner was a fourth generation Florida farmer who was born in Starke, involved in 4-H throughout his youth, and destined to lead his state’s thriving agricultural industry. While growing up in Bradford County, Conner got his start in politics by serving as president of his county 4-H club and the Bradford County 4- H Council. He was also active in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and served as state and national FFA president.
Conner acquired his political aspirations at an early age. While at the University of Florida Extension Service’s Forestry Camp at the age of 14, Conner met Commissioner of Agriculture Nathan Mayo. On the spot, Conner declared that when Mayo was no longer serving, he wanted his job.
In 1950, Conner was dubbed the “boy wonder” of politics when, at age 21, while still a student at the University of Florida, he was elected to the Florida State House of Representatives. At the age of 28, Conner rose to be the youngest Speaker of the House the state has ever had. As speaker, Conner introduced the agricultural assessment law, commonly known as the Green Belt Law, which enables farmland to be taxed on the basis of its agricultural use, rather than its speculative value.
As a young man in his early thirties just two decades after that fateful meeting with Mayo at forestry camp, Conner’s dream to lead the state’s farming community came to fruition when he became Florida’s seventh Commissioner of Agriculture. Conner’s first term as the Commissioner of Agriculture began on Jan. 2, 1961. He held the distinction of being one of the youngest persons to serve as Commissioner of Agriculture of any state. He retired in 1991 after serving 30 years.
Conner took over the office of Commissioner of Agriculture following Nathan Mayo who had served 37 years in that role. By order of the Legislature, he reorganized the Department. Conner created the Division of Plant Industry, and then later the Office of Consumer Services. The Florida Forest Service was also brought into the Department under his leadership. He developed a marketing strategy to get Florida products better prices. He led annual trade missions across the US, and around the world to develop international markets for Florida agricultural products. Conner was the first president and co-founder of the Southern United States Trade Associations. Conner led multiple pest eradication efforts: brucellosis in cattle herds, hog cholera, Mediterranean fruit flies, giant African snails, and citrus canker. Among the things he was most proud of, Conner said “We kept Agriculture viable through some lean times”. During his tenure as Agriculture Commissioner annual farm cash receipts went from $869 million in 1960 to $6.2 billion in 1990.
Doyle Conner received numerous honors because of his dedicated effort to Florida Agriculture during his career. He received the USDA’s Certificate of Merit and the Superior Service Award for promoting agricultural trade. Conner was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame, and was recognized as a National Outstanding 4-H Alumni. Doyle Conner will long be remembered as a leader and champion of Florida Agriculture.