Interviewee: Ben Hill Griffin
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: June 23, 2000
P: [It is June 23, ] 2000. We are continuing from where we were a couple of weeks
ago and where Mr. Griffin had told us a great about his background and his
family's background and certainly a great deal about the citrus industry. I would
like to start today, with asking you, Ben Hill, what would you, primarily attribute
your father's success to?
G: Any time I start thinking about my father, I kind of get a little bit choked,
emotionally. He and I were very close. I think that his success was due to his
driving energy and perseverance and applying good, sound, basic, common
sense. And he built upon that and he experienced one thing and then ...He told
me a story one time about I don't know whether it is true or not but it was in
Georgia. They had a watermelon-eating contest. Who could eat the biggest
watermelon. And they had to put up some money. Well, this young man out
there, he was fourteen or so, I don't know how old he was. But they had to put
up some money. And that was big money back then, if you put up five dollars or
three dollars. He wanted to enter it. So, he registered but he didn't pay. And
he saw this big watermelon that each one of them had to eat. And it was a
timed thing. He said, I'll be back in an hour and if I decide to go, I will put up my
money. Well, he runs off and thinks about it and so forth. He comes back and
puts his money up. They had the watermelon contest and low and behold, he
wins. He wins handsomely. He beat everybody, quickly. And they had him up
there and they said, son, you were pretty confident you were going to win that,
weren't you? He said, yes, sir. He said, well, how did you know that? And he
said, well, at my home, my father has got a little watermelon patch out there.
And I looked at that watermelon that is up here and I know that there was one
back there that there was a little bit bigger than that one that you got up here.
So, I ran home and I ate that one. If I could eat that bigger one, I knew darn
good and well, that I could eat that smaller one. That is how I knew I could win.
So, I think I mentioned perseverance, common sense, [he] applied himself, knew
the basics of his decisions, as was known as that time and then he built on one
experience, then he got to a bigger experience, like the watermelon. You know,
success feeds upon success. And as he grew, grew like a mushroom with many
different little heads on a mushroom, if you will. Imagine that. So, that way,
later on in life, he started small. He started with ten acres. And he learned a lot
from that ten acres. He sold it in bulk and found out that the man bought it knew
more about how many boxes on there than he did. That never happened to him,
again. Next year's crop, if you sold it by bulk, he had a darn good idea of how
much fruit was out there. And if you had a good idea about how much fruit was
out there and the man or woman buying it, was basing their bulk you know
what a bulk deal is? I will give you x number of dollars for this crop of fruit that is
on your ten acres. So, next year, he knew or felt like he knew how many
boxes. See, he had been out there when they were loading out last year. He
knew that he had picked out more than what he thought. So, the man he was
a good business man. He made a profit. Dad did all right because he accepted
the deal. But he could have done better. So, next year, the man came by. He
had a good idea about how many boxes and he knew the market price, so to
determine the man was offering him a fair price or not. And that year, he knew
the market, he had a good idea about the number of boxes a real good idea.
And he made a deal handshake. You know, that was another trademark of my
P: His word was his bond.
G: You betcha. Another thing was, I think I mentioned that to you, before is, of
course we didn't have computers back then. We just had the adding machines
and all that kind of stuff. And then, computers came in. He said, I want to tell
you fellas something. The computers spits it out and gives you the information
and I will feed it in and boy, we'll get several alternatives on it. He says, that is
fine for you all. And do it. But for me, Ben Hill Griffin, Jr., give me a penny
pencil and a piece of paper and I'll figure that thing out. How many dollars per
acre? He would be over there plugging in all of the numbers and multiplying. I
think that is probably about $875,000. Just a minute, Mr. Griffin. Mr. Griffin, it
is $843,760. Okay. You see, I don't need a computer. I can do it faster in my
head. You get dependent on the computer and you don't work your brain so I
am going to stay with my penny pencil and my pad. End of story. Did I answer
your question? Perseverance is in there. He was a great believer, Vernon, in
perseverance. You fail and you still think you are right, get up and persevere.
Persevere, persevere, persevere. Now, if you get down the road and you finally
wake up and say, [no], I am on the wrong trail. Drop it. Don't persevere a cold
trail. Go get you another goal.
P: What did he do when he found he had made a mistake?
G: He was a great believer in cutting his losses short. If he had gotten himself into
something what he thought was good and he gets in there and he says, oh,
oh. This thing is bigger than I can handle, or I don't like what is laid out, here, he
would try to get out of that situation. Sell it to somebody that knew how to run it
better and all those things. Buy me out. He never to my knowledge he never
sold something, like an automobile that he knew was a lemon, he would not sell
that to you. Other than to tell you that, Vernon, this car, in my opinion, is a
lemon. Now, maybe you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. That is
another thing he would believe in. Making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And
that meant you look at a situation and everybody thinks that it is terrible. He
would try to look in there and see that it is really now what it appears to be. I am
going to buy this because I know how I can turn that thing over and really make
something out of it. And may other people have walked by and looked and
considered they didn't want to touch it. Dad walked by, considered it, asked
the price. If he felt like that he could take that and turn it and make it beautiful --
make it successful, he would buy it and then he would apply his experience and
knowledge as quickly as he could to make that investment -- whether it be a truck
or a car. Some people walk by and say, oh my gosh. Look at this, it has some
dents in it. Paint doesn't look good and say it has 60,000 miles on it or
something. But Dad would look in there deeper. And he would say, hey, I
know how to fix dents. Doesn't cost much to paint a car. 60,000 miles, that
thing will run to 120,000. He would investigate the engine. You know, the
difference between an engine and a motor, representative? What is the
difference an engine and a motor? I'll tell you like my father told me. He asked
me that one day. Twenty years ago. I never forgot it. He said, Now, son,
listen to me and pay attention. What is the difference between an engine and a
motor? I don't know. He said, all right, pay attention. An engine runs off of
separate fuel power -- to run the engine. That is the gas motors and the diesels.
Okay. A motor runs as a direct result of a power line like an electric source.
So, an engine runs from it's own combustion. A motor, like an electric motor, it
runs off electricity. So, in a car, you don't talk about a motor -- that ain't tied to a
power line. It makes its own energy to drive that. But if you have got a grove
and you want an engine or a motor, you decide at that point, do I want something
that is self sufficient? If they brown-out or black-out, my engine is going to
continue to run and be able to irrigate my groves and protect it from freeze. If I
have a motor running that water supply and the power company over there in
Tampa, think brown out or black out, that grove, I can't put water on it because
my source of energy -- I can't do anything about it. So, he paid more for an
engine than he would for a motor. That is it.
P: Being in business as long as your father was and as successful as he was, can
you think of the one or two of the most significant decisions that he made?
G: Yes, sir. I think I told you about him going to New York and selling beans and
G: He lost money on that deal. So, you see, that was something that he did not
want to persevere. He found out he better find something else. Another thing
that he found that, you know, he knew something about groves. My grandfather,
of course, had taught him and he had been there and he knew how to spray and
how to fertilize, etc., etc. He plied himself and then he got into the...he ran that
little small fertilizer plant that I was telling you. He was hired to do that. After
two of three years of that and he was accumulating a little groves along, himself -
land, turning them into groves. Then, he began to form his own care taking
company, Griffin Care Taking Company. At one time, my father had eleven
different corporations, eleven! Late sixties, they were all combined into one.
He had a fertilizer company; he had a grove care taking company; he had a
concentrate company, where you make frozen orange concentrate; he had a
packing house, fresh fruit packing house, Ben Hill Griffin Packing House.
Eleven of these things that he had made up, every time he got into a new
business, he would make another corporation. Well, in the late, sixties, no, wait
a minute, late fifties, he had a very good accountant friend he has passed away,
now but he was not only an accountant, he was a good business man and a
good advisor. Dad loved him. And he advised my father -- see, he had eleven
different corporations. He was borrowing money from one corporation to put in
the next. And then, put it in there, put it there. I mean, it was all legal but it got
to the point, he just threw his hands up. I am going nuts. This corporation's
year ends in December, this one here ends in August; this one here in July and
this one fresh fruit, I want it to end in June. Because I will have all of my packing
done by then. Then, I will have all of my cost and revenue. He said he all of
these things in his mind. So, he brought them all in merged them together,
fertilizer company as well, and made it Ben Hill Griffin, Inc. That way, all he had
to do was think. He didn't have to think where the money was coming from,
timing, losses, profits put them all together. And that was a real significant
thing that he did. Probably about 1956, just before he bought the concentrate
plant or right after he bought it because we had the Griffin Concentrate. There
was even a Griffin Single Strength Juice Plant over in Bartow and here --
sectionizing plant. Sectionizing grapefruit. Two hundred very skilled ladies that
know how to be dexterous, you know. They take the grapefruit and they jerk the
hide off it through a system heat and so forth. The grapefruit would come to
the ladies just in a pure meat [form]. And they would take that grapefruit and
they would put it on a metal spear, if you will, zap. That was the grapefruit.
And it was so positioned that they could then, take their knife and I have already
told you, if you have got your knife, your got your britches I have got my
britches on, so I got a knife and those ladies would come in. This is the
membrane between each section. Membrane is bitter. If you are eating
grapefruit try not to get that membrane. Just get the pure meat. That is going
to be your sweetest. And I think I have already mentioned that the sweetest part
of any fruit, be it an orange or a grapefruit, is the body. That is the blossom end.
The stem end is on the top. That holds it to the tree. So, if you take that piece
of fruit off, you turn it, you see the blossom end and you are going cut it in half,
give your best friend the top half and you eat the bottom half and don't tell him
anything, and you will have the sweetest part of that particular piece of fruit. But
those gals, those ladies, they were so skilled, they would just run down that
membrane, zap, zap, zap, zap, all the way around, and they could turn it. Pick
up another one, put it in, zap, zap, zap. And then, they had a conveyor system
that took just the pure meat segments -- we call it segments of the grapefruit --
beautiful. And then, it would go down and go through a process to be put in the
can and be heat treated to pasteurize it, put it in a can. We call them brights.
The bright -- give me a can, darlin'. A bright can, there is one, right there.
There is one, right there. Give me that. They weren't cans like this, but you
can imagine. The label was paper. They had indented on the top what the
product was, inside -- when it was packed, what it is. Consumer couldn't
understand it but we could understand. And they would all come out in brights.
Come through the pasteurization -- just thousands of them. And they were
bright. Put that in the warehouse in a corrugated, paper box. Your customers
make orders and you got twenty customers -- some real big, A&P, some small,
some Piggly Wiggly, or Mom and Pop deal, and we already had their labels
made up. But we didn't know what that customer wanted; maybe the customer
didn't know. But he would call and make an order and want to buy five thousand
cases from you. Fine. When do you want it shipped? Fine. We would take
that segment of the warehouse that had that particular product -- you and I and
everybody else that walked through there, and they were just bright cans. They
didn't have a label on them. We would take out that five thousand cases and
run it through what we call a labeler. And that is a single chute deal with all of
these brights rolling down there and as they rolled, they would come across
A&P's label. One end was glued and the other end was glued. And as that can
came across there -- and these are all lined up. I mean, it was zip, zip, zip. It
came across there -- that label would pick up, wrap on the can, and then, when it
got to the end, it would pick up again, and then, it would say...see, it had got the
label, the beautiful label. And it is A&P, red grapefruit sections. Quality is our
name, or whatever they wanted on there. And then, that is what, A&P or Piggly
Wiggly, or whatever. They would go and put it in their stores. But that is what
we called a bright. Nowadays, they have this lithograph. They know about how
many Coca Colas there are going to sell, or Pepsi colas or whatever. They go
ahead and put the label on it, when the product goes on the can. That saves a
lot of money. But back then, in the forties and the fifties and the sixties, the
brights -- since you didn't know who you might be selling that to you couldn't
pack up a hundred thousand cases for A&P. The A&P might not order a
hundred thousand cases. They might order fifty and then, what are you going to
do with them other fifty thousand, carry them til next year? That is not good.
The quality of the product goes down with time. To get back to your original
question -- some of the things that were decisions... I would say when he put all of
his those eleven or twelve corporations together, that put it into a mind set that
he didn't have to think about eleven. All he had to do was think about one. So,
he was better focused, wasn't he? Right. Better focused. So, that made him
more successful. But he bought, he added some groves. He then, he saw the
benefit of being in grove care-taking business. Other growers around, they liked
him. He would come to them and say, let me take care of your groves and I will
treat you fair and I have got to have a little bit of profit but I won't take much, But,
you can see my grove and you can see yours. You want your grove to look as
good as mine? Well, yes, sir. Well, I'll treat your grove just as well as I'll treat
mine. And if you want me to seel your fruit for you, I'll do that, too. What did you
get for your fruit last year? Oh, I got "x." Well, that is pretty good. Yes, sir,
that is pretty good. Really, really good. I don't tell everybody this, sir, madam,
but I got a quarter a box more than what you got. How did you do it? He
wasn't braggin'. He said, I may not do that, again next year, but I have done it
the last three years. If I have done it for three years, I think I might do it for four.
I know one thing, I am not going to get the bottom of the market. He always
wanted to be equal to the market plus. Plus. He didn't want to go out and just
-- you know you sell fruit several times of the year. Some people will sell to
somebody but they don't have a pot nor a window -- we know what that means,
and they are fly by nights. So, a market is doing like this. That buyer comes in
and he offers this big peak. Wow, I'd better sell my fruit to him. Come to find
out, the man doesn't have the money. He is running on an empty gas in his
vehicle. So, what he thought he had sold for four dollars a box, he may not get
anything. Or he may get half. And the man comes back and says, I can't pay
you four. I can pay you two. Well, man, the market has been three all year
long. Well, I am sorry. I made a mistake. You can put me into bankruptcy, if
you want to. I can pay you two. Then you think, I better get that money while I
can. But the next day, the next week, the next month, around the coffee shop
uptown, he is not crowing any more about how high he sold his fruit, when
everybody else sold theirs for less. He doesn't say that he got snookered. He
just doesn't talk about the price of fruit, anymore. Man, when is it going to rain?
But that, then there was a big, big decision in 1960, when he mortgaged
everything he had to buy out Satilly. It was about six or eight thousand acres of
groves from Polk, Highlands, and Manatee Counties. He had to borrow all of
the money. I think I told you about him going to New York, because the bank in
Florida weren't big enough to handle him. And I think maybe I am going over
some old stories, here, but he mortgaged everything he had and thirty days later,
all that millions of dollars of fruit that he thought he had, that is that isn't a bird in
the hand, is it?
G: That is a bird in the tree. He woke up within thirty days -- he didn't go to sleep
that night because he knew that the hurricane was coming. But when dawn
came the next day after hurricane Donna came through in 1960, about the tenth,
eleventh, or twelfth of September. He woke up the next day and his grapefruit --
he had lost seventy-five percent of his grapefruit crop. He could go to any grove
he wanted to and look at that grove and the __ was literally covered with
grapefruit on the ground. You could not take one step from here to there without
stepping on a grapefruit. That is the truth. About seventy percent of his crop
was on the ground. It was worthless. He couldn't do anything. It wasn't
mature. He tried to make cow feed out of it. He couldn't do it. There was no
salvage whatsoever. The only benefit, I guess, he got out of it, was the
grapefruit deteriorated and rotted and added humus to the soil. But he was
broke. He was bankrupt. And that bank didn't stay with him. All he could pay
was the interest. He could not pay the principal that he had agreed to. Now,
maybe he could sell his ranch to help pay his debt but he wanted to keep his
ranch. So, within two days, he was in new York City talking to those men and
women that had trusted him to loan that kind of money. It was the biggest citrus
loan that had ever been made in the state of Florida at that time. That was in
1960, when I was at University of Florida as a freshman. And, man, I wanted to
come home. I knew he was in bad trouble. My Dad used to kid people, you
know, his close friends, not everybody. He says, I want to tell you all one thing,
when I bought that grove.... See, many people had looked at those groves.
They turned them down. When Dad bought them, it was like that silk purse and
sow's ear, they saw problems; Dad saw opportunities. At that particular time,
grapefruit weren't worth very much. About twenty percent of this acreage was
grapefruit, maybe thirty. It was the old deal, I think I mentioned to you, you had
six rows of oranges and then four rows of grapefruit, six rows of oranges and four
rows of grapefruit. Knowledgeable people in the Florida citrus industry said Ben
Hill Griffin -- he has finally has messed up, bad. He bought that thing. There is
no way that he can take grapefruit and oranges and make a profit out of it. See,
what they missed was that Dad already had a concentrate plant. He had a
single shrink juice plant in Bartow. And do you know what else he had? He
had a fresh fruit packing house. So, he had three different ways to handle
grapefruit that other people could have done -- you don't have to own a
concentrate plant. You don't have to own a sectionalizing plant. You don't
have to own a fresh fruit plant. But you have got the fruit and then you go to the
different people and you make your best deal. Well, he didn't have to go to
people. He was fortunate. And he had a fresh fruit house. He had a
concentrate and then he had a single strength __ He knew he could put it
all together and make it work. But, there were many of his good friends,
probably not behind his back, not disrespectful, but they would get together and
kind of shake their heads, I was told. They would say, boy, Ben Hill Griffin has
been a success all these years but he got a hold of something that might wipe
him out. Some of his enemies were glad he bought it. But, the end of that story
was that he went to those bankers in new York they didn't know P-turkey about
citrus. They liked juice or something. They agreed to modify the contract [to]
interest, only for two years and then kick back into the principal and the interest
on the declining basis. They hung with him because Dad told them, if you will
stay with me, we will make a profit out of this. You can bankrupt me, because I
have got -- I'll sell out and I'll have a little money left. But all of my life's work will
be gone because I will have to liquidate. And those bankers -- they made a
smart decision. If they had called his loan, who are they going to get to run all of
those darn groves? They believed in my father, Ben Hill Griffin, Jr. They
agreed to lower that -- cut out the principal -- just pay the interest and boy, that
was a great decision for the bank. It was a fantastic decision for my father. I
joke about it. He didn't. He didn't say this. In the 1960s, I said, you know, my
father, he mortgaged everything he had except his children. And if they had
been worth a damn, he would have mortgaged them, too. Anyway, that was a
successful deal. And from there, all this time, Vernon, he liked politics. Going
back to Governor Fuller Warren -- we went through that. Governor Fuller
Warren, the silver tongued orator. 1950, he was the one who edicted or led the
legislature to put in fences. Before, you fenced your groves to keep the cows
from getting in. That flipped it back to the rancher and says, you have got to
fence your property. But to keep the cows out of the groves; keep the cows out
of the highways, etc, etc. That was a wonderful thing that Governor Fuller
Warren, by himself, or with others you knew that Senator Pat Thomas passed
G: He was a great man. I really liked Pat. I called Senator Pat Thomas, of course
you worked with him. You knew him better. But I had known him for many,
many years, dating back to when my father was active, serving in the legislature
or working with elected senators and representatives. In his later years, I have
always felt like that Senator Pat Thomas, you correct me, he was more of a
statesman, like Benjamin Harvey Hill. Benjamin Harvey Hill was a statesman.
He voted for what he believed in and I believe that Pat Thomas did that because
I know, many times you have to show your constituency that you brought back a
little bacon or something -- going back to the old porkchop days.
P: Pat Thomas was a very effective legislator.
G: Do you think he was honest?
P: Yes, sure do.
G: Did you enjoy working with him?
G: You didn't always agree, did you?
P: He was a person you could always believe, whatever he told you.
G: Kind of a man of his word.
P: Very warm and personal. His represented his constituents well.
G: I would put Representative Vernon Peoples in that same category, sir.
P: Well, thank you.
G: I worked with you when you didn't even know me. You always told me straight.
P: Tried to.
G: You did what you said you were going to do. But you had an open ear to listen
to my side, possibly it may have veered you a little bit one way or another. I
don't know. Probably not. But at least, you made me think that you gave it
consideration. I appreciate that. What is your next question?
P: I always did. I believe that your father purchased an existing citrus concentrate
G: Yes, sir.
P: How important was that to the overall success of his operation.
G: It was very important. Dad served on the Minute Maid Board. Minute Maid was
a result of Snow Crop. Snow Crop, you know you have got to go back a few
years to remember Snow Crop. That is still a recognizable name to people of a
certain age and older. Probably if you are in your forties or something, Snow
Crop doesn't mean anything. Minute Maid is still there. Dad was on the board
of Minute Maid and he owned a lot of stock in Minute Maid. I think I mentioned
to you that the federal government came in and said that Minute Maid had too
many concentrate plants. So, they picked two to sell. One was over in just
north of Tampa. That was not a good location because there wasn't much fruit
around it. A lot of people. Industry and people don't necessarily mix real well.
And the other plant they were going to sell was in Frostproof. So, you see, he
had his groves; he had his caretaking; he was taking care of other people's
groves; he has got his fertilizer company; he had his packing house for fresh fruit;
he had his single strength plant for juice, grapefruit and oranges, etc. and
sections. But he didn't have a concentrate plant. And he felt like that those
people that owned the concentrate plant, they would buy fruit, convert it into
juice, and they would make more of a profit than did the grower. You know, at
each point, middle man, middle woman, somewhere, somebody got to take a cut,
you know, of the profits. So, he got off of the board. I don't know if he sold his
stock or part of it or what. He never told me but in my mind, I think that he
liquidated a great portion of that to be able to afford to buy the concentrate plant
-- or at least to cut it down to the point that he could borrow on it, see. The
concentrate plant was x number of dollars but he could only get a 75-80% loan,
so he had to take some money out of his own pocket to get it down where the
banker would loan him the balance to finish it up. That was very important. But
what happened? Bingo, he owned the concentrate plant. Right? All of a
sudden, he has customers all over the United States. Big responsibility, satisfy
your customers. Service, quality, you know, commitment. I'll be here, the rest
of the year. You want a 100,000 cases? Don't worry about it. lam going to
get you 100,000 cases. Well, what if it freezes? Don't worry. I'll protect you.
I'll have them. I am not going to run out. Act of God is always in there, you
know. You could have a freeze that just kills every tree in Florida. He can't
produce something that he doesn't have. But, then, Vernon, what happened
was the people that were in the bulk selling business, they call them bird dogs.
[A] bird dog goes out and buys somebody's fruit, here, here, and here -- [for]
cash. Generally, [he can] get it at a lower price. He has got a pretty good sized
bunch of fruit. He comes in to Dad's [place and] Dad needs 500,000 boxes to
run his plant. That man knows he [Dad] has got to have it. He says, Mr. Griffin,
I'll sell this fruit to you, there is [are] 500,000 boxes. I'll deliver them however
you want them. Well, what is your price? My price is "x". Dad says, what?
You are a quarter a box, [or] fifty cents a box, higher than the market is out there.
Okay. Maybe, maybe not. Volume helps to reduce your cost. Do you want
the 500,000 or don't you? Dad says, gee, that is just too much. Can't you
lower the price? Nope, can't do it. Well, see you, later. So Dad sends his
men out to see if he can buy 500,000 boxes of this and this and this -- [from the]
growers. He can only get 100,000. They just don't want to sell. They want to
wait for whatever reason. [He] calls the man back. [He has] got the 500,000.
He says, okay, I'll pay you the exorbitant price. We will be doing business. So,
he pays him the big bucks. He has got to have the volume. If he doesn't have
the volume, that concentrate plant will eat you up and spit you out. You have
got to have the volume. If you don't have the volume, if that plant -- well, that
plant, today, runs about 13,000,000. If you want to put 8,000,000 boxes into a
13,000,000 box capacity processing plant, your costs are going to go whoom!,
right, straight up. If you can get 90 to 95%, your costs are going down and
probably leveling out at a very competitive rate. Now, have you got the puzzle
put together? That is why he bought Satilly. He bought those groves --
hocked everything he had, mortgaged it to the hilt, so that he would have his own
fruit to run his own plant. So, when that guy comes in and he had 500,000 [at] a
quarter or 50 cents over the market, Dad would say, thank you, but, I would like
to have it but I don't have to have it. And I'll be picking up some fruit as we go
along. We had daily prices out there. A thousand boxes what is the price?
Five dollars. Okay, bring it in. Next day, four or five others...I got 500. I got
1000. He had a man handle all of that stuff. He not only bought the Satilly
House for that purpose... By the way, in that deal, Mr. Satilly (I think his name
was Jimmy Satilly) he had the biggest packing house in the state of Florida, at
that time. It was a monster. Dad already had the size packing house that he
needed, the one in Avon Park burned down one morning, about four or five
o'clock in the morning. Dad lives half way between here and Avon Park. I'll tell
you where he lives. We came up there, today. But, he called me and said,
son.... We called it the little packing house. Back when he was first starting,
this was the big packing house -- the only one he had. So, when he bought the
Minute Maid operation, they had a pretty good sized, fresh fruit packing house in
that package. So, that became the big one. And he ran the little one on
specialty stuff. It was built out of hard pine. And I don't know, they say some
stuff under it or in it (it was right next to the train track, railroad tracks) caught on
fire for some reason. So, I dressed and at that time, I lived about.... I don't
think I lived on Lake Reedy, then. I think I built my house out there 1976 or
something like that.
W: Let's take a break here and flip the tape.
[End of side A1]
P: One more question about your father and his business acumen and that is, how
was he about delegating authority and responsibility?
G: Let me think about that. He started small so it was a little bit more difficult for
him to take a division or something and just say, you handle it. We will meet
once a month. If you have got something big you are working on, like capital
acquisitions or something.... I guess I should say he was more of a "hands on"
man. I can't do that. My father has been dead -- passed away now, I don't like
the word "dead", ten years this past March, the first. That is when he passed
away. If he had lived two more days, he would have passed away on my
birthday. That is an interesting thing. He had three sisters, right? He had
three sisters. Each of the three sisters had one son. Okay? All three of them
died on their birth date was the same birth date as their mother. Not the
father. The father didn't have the Griffin blood in him, see? And everybody was
worried that I was greatly concerned that my father was going to pass away on
my birthday. I didn't want him to pass away. If he wanted to go on my birthday
[if the] Lord called him on my birthday that is okay with me. But he missed it
by two days. So, all of his sisters' sons died on they died on their sons'
birthdays. My father passed away two days earlier than my birthday. Does that
mean something? I don't know. I don't know. His first two daughters, my
oldest sister and my youngest sister, I think I have already told you this, they
were born two years apart on the same day. He didn't like to do anything much
on Friday. Friday the thirteenth or whatever. If he was going to hire you and he
needed you, he would say, well, you are going to start Monday or Tuesday or
Wednesday or Thursday. He didn't want to hire anybody on Friday. Why? He
never told me. That was just him. I do the same thing, don't I?
W: Just about.
G: Have you ever thought of the word "fear"? Like "that puts the fear of the Lord in
me." Or "I am so afraid I can't move". I have got a friend of mine that -- fears is
anxiety, also. F-e-a-r, she thinks stands for "false evidence appearing real."
Read that. And if you ever get fear, think of "false evidence appearing real."
So, I like that. I keep that close where I can see it every now and then.
However, you know, fear is not necessarily always false evidence appearing real.
You can get out there on the street and see that big ole truck coming and boy, I
need to get to the other side of the road, quick. I think I can't make it. Whoa.
Stop. Don't go. You fear crossing that thing because you know, if you don't
make it, you are going to die. So, fear of heights means something, also. If
you are on the edge of a cliff, you say, oh, boy, I just can't look down. I am so
afraid. You better be afraid. If you are up there that close, you might slip and
fall. So, fear, many times is trying to tell you something. Other times, our
imagined fear is false evidence appearing real. Wait until you know it is real. If
it is real, fear is good. If it is not real, it is just false evidence appearing real.
That gives you peace. Go ahead.
P: When your father passed away, you became the operating head of the Ben Hill
G: Yes, sir. Actually, he gave me power of attorney months ahead of when he
passed away. He felt like he had a good opportunity to recoup. He had a blood
disorder that now is very common. All the doctors know about it. He had this
very simple -- I am trying to think of the name of it. What it is -- it is a blood
disorder that you manufacture in your body, excess iron. When that iron gets to
your liver, that is bad. You can replace your kidneys, but you -- or you can live
with one kidney but you don't have but one liver. If that goes bad, your only shot
is to get a donor to give you a new liver. And many times that doesn't allow you
to live out your full life. It might give you five to ten more years. But he had this
particular disease and he went to Mayo. He went to Shands. He went to where
ever to find help. Finally, University of Florida -- Shands -- they finally found it.
[It was a ] Simple cure. [It was to] Give blood. Give a pint of blood every month.
Give a pint of blood every three months, every six months, once a year.
Whatever it takes to pull your iron down. Now, I am no doctor but if you give a
pint of blood every month, your body has got to regenerate the blood, I think, to
get you back up full powered. When you get full powered, you have less iron in
your system and then you monitor it. If it is in the safe zone, you monitor it until
it starts building up again and then you give another pint. So, had he known
that, see, he did not have enough time to lower his iron if he had known it a
year earlier or five years earlier. You go in and ferritin is iron. You go in and
you get a blood check at the hospital or your local doctor and they run all of these
things out. Normally, they do only the regular iron test for ferritin. There is
another test for ferritin that costs a little bit more but it is more revealing than just
your normal iron, [and it measures] all the different components of your blood.
So, genetically -- see, I am a potential developer of the same disease that my
father had. I have checked. Right after he passed away, I did it [the test]. Oh,
gosh, a couple times a year. Genetically, it comes through the father. Ladies
don't develop this problem. I don't want to get too personal, but you know, the
ladies go through life until they reach the change and they have these monthly
menstrual cycles. So, they are giving blood once a month on a regular basis. If
they were to have it, that keeps it in control because they start it at a very young
age when they start reaching that degree of maturity. I don't know when all that
stuff happens. That is for women to know and I don't know have time to find out.
That was like my Dad, at the stockholders' meeting, [when] somebody from New
York [had] come down. He was a stock holder. Boy, Dad was up there running
the meeting, see? And this guy was, he was, oh, I would say he was in his late
seventies. And he was wanting to know more about citrus, you know. Why are
you in citrus? You know, why aren't you here? How long does it take citrus
groves to start maturing and developing? Well, he was just digging in and
digging in and digging in. I am getting back to why I don't need to know about all
of these women things. Dad finally told him, he said, sir, in all due respect, he
says, something to the effect, I don't have time to bring you from where you are
up to a knowledgeable level of citrus. That would take me a long time for me to
educate you about everything I have learned about the citrus industry for the last
sixty years of my life. And you know what, you don't have time enough to give
me the opportunity to teach you. Next question. That man sat down and he
never heard from him again. That happened.
P: How large was the Ben Hill Griffin Enterprises when you took it over? I mean,
G: It was pretty sizable. Pretty sizable. With Dad's leadership and (this is rather
confidential) but, all my life, since I was very young, he was bringing me along
and teaching the business. I didn't know what he was doing. But, many years
ago I knew what he was doing. But to begin with, I didn't.... [When] I was ten
years old and nine years old and I wanted something, [he would say,] here is the
way you are going to get it. Here is a nursery. You get out there and work in
that nursery. I will pay you a fair wage for your week's work. Have you ever
been "bear caught"? "Bear caught" in Florida -- [we are] not talking about the
brown bear or the black bear in the ag [agricultural] community, if you get "bear
caught," [it] generally always happens in the summer. The sun is high; it is hot,
hot, hot. And you are doing some degree of manual labor. And all of a sudden
you get "bear caught". You get fuzzy-headed and you are sick at your stomach.
I think [dehydration] is what causes it. And the only way to turn that bear loose
is to lay down, drink some water -- back then, they didn't have Gatorade. Then,
in two or three hours, you (most of the time) will be back and ready to go to work
the next day. I got "bear caught" in a grove right across from where I, now,
live. And I was hoeing trees. We don't hoe trees, anymore. That is that little
thing where you spade up under there and cuts the roots off of all of the weeds
just about that far -- that is about an inch or half inch -- under where they come
out of the ground. And I was hoeing and that is pretty good work because every
now and then, you hit a root that is hard and you pop it through. Well, I got
"bear caught" that afternoon, about two o'clock. I guess, to a degree, some
people might say you pass out. I did not pass out. But the men -- the workers
that I was working with, you know, more mature men -- they knew exactly what
had happened. They had seen it, maybe they had experienced it, themselves.
We had what we call a pipe trailer and a tractor. Pipe trailer is kind of a long
trailer with some poles that stick up on the side. And you lay you pipe in there,
pile it up and that is why you call it a pipe trailer. It is not just a flat trailer. If you
put your pipe on there and haul that, it would roll off. So, they have these little
six-foot poles or four-foot poles, spaced about every ten feet. They knew what I
needed. The boss man, the foreman wasn't there. We didn't have radios and
all these hand held.... I can call the President of the United States from right
here. He won't answer me, but I can call him. But, they loaded me up; they got
my little lunch box. When you are working in the groves, you got your lunch box,
you always put your lunch box inside the trees [where it was] shady. And if you
want a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, you go ahead and put the
mayonnaise on the bread and put your bacon in there, but your lettuce you
probably don't put lettuce in there at all, you just forget the lettuce. You got your
tomato. You put your whole tomato in there because I like tomatoes. I don't
like them like I love oranges. But I like a BLT and all those kind of things.
Tomato sandwich or whatever and so, at lunch, you take that whole tomato, and
you slice it and then you have your bread, your bacon, and your mayonnaise and
that fresh tomato that hadn't sogged into the bread if you made that sandwich at
home, by the time it was noon, it was ninety degrees, that would be a soggy
sandwich. You probably wouldn't eat it. So, they put my lunch box on there
[the truck] and me. The tractor went about fifteen or twenty miles an hour. That
old trailer was just bump-de-de-bump. Trailers don't ride as smooth as a car. I
didn't care. I had breeze. I was laying down. I was conscious. I had already
drunk some water. And they took me to my mother and father's house in town.
From where my house is to where my mother's house is, must be four miles.
So, they brought me up to the house. Of course, my mother my mother was
home. No way to call, but she was home. I am trying to think how old I was.
Ten, twelve, fourteen, I don't think I was older than fourteen. You don't have to
get "bear caught" but once. You would never do it again. See, I was young. I
was inexperienced. Nobody had told me about getting "bear caught". And I
was young and boy, I was trying to outwork everybody else, you know. Just like
going to work. I always wanted to go to work. I want to be there at least twenty
minutes before I was supposed to report. I didn't want to be paid for that twenty
minutes. I wanted to be there at least twenty [minutes, but] thirty would be all
right. [This was to] find out what they wanted me to do that day. Maybe, I had a
question that I wanted to ask somebody. You want some more stories about my
P: Yeah. Sure.
G: You want them, now?
P: Go ahead.
G: Did I finished my points and all?
G: Anyway, my mother was there, and well, she took good care of me. She knew
that it was heat exhaustion; that is what it was. So, I got a lot of liquids in there
and she fixed me a sandwich or something. If we had TV back then, it was
snowy. Not like the clarity that we have today. Back then, when TV finally
arrived in Frostproof, you had about two channels. Channel thirteen in Tampa
and Channel eight in Tampa. We were too far from Orlando. Fort Myers was
way, too far. So, long story, short, they punched me out (you know, punched
the clock) they gave me the time that I had worked that day until I had gotten
"bear caught". That is when they said, you didn't get eight hours that day. You
only got five or six hours. That was fair. I mean, when I got "bear caught" I
wasn't working. So, why pay somebody when I am not working. Anyway, there
are a number of little stories relative to my father. I have got one that is mine.
Did I tell you about my father's long range plan?
G: I told you about the freeze and the good Lord doesn't know... he hasn't made up
his mind, yet, when it is going to freeze. Dad had some bankers and so forth
and agriculture. [It is] very difficult to know what you are going to produce. If
you produce it, then you put it in the hands of somebody who is going to market
it. You don't know, really, what it is going to sell for until it is all gone, if you are
staying with that product all the way through. But these New York people, they
would loan him the money. One of them, I guess had been to business college
or something. He was a sharp man. He asked my father, Mr. Griffin, what is
your long range plan? He said, what? You know, what is your five year plan,
your ten year plan and so forth? So, all these big companies, they have a five
year plan and year plan and all those things [for] projecting profits and etc. Of
course, Dad knew what he was talking about. He was just trying to think of how
he could answer that guy. Finally, he told him, do you really want to know my
long range plan? He said, yes, sir. He said, my long range plan is to stay in
business this year. When Dad wanted to emphasize something, he wouldn't
thump the table. Stay in business this year. Thump it. He said, you know
something, young man? I have been doing it for forty years and it has worked
out pretty darn good. I am going to stick to that long range plan [laughing]. It
was a very, fair question and it was a good question to ask certain businesses,
but it just doesn't work in the citrus business. Now, you can have a long range
plan like, Oh, I have got x number of acres today. I would like to plant about
3000 acres a year. So, in ten years -- our company will have 3,000 more acres.
That would be nice to have. Whatever your preference was [in a long range
plan]. So, he had some long range plans. He knew what he wanted to do in
citrus. Just like he knew he needed fruit to supply that concentrate plant. He
P: His long range plan was in his head. And it was flexible.
G: Yes, sir. And he didn't really care to share it with anybody [laughing]. Certainly,
not that banker from New York. Either loan me the money or not. If you don't,
I will go to somebody that will. That was Banker's Trust. It was either Banker's
Trust or...anyway, the bank that loaned him the money and stayed with him,
when they really could have called that loan, two years from September of 1960
you go one year, let's see 1961 in 1962, December 7th, the 3rd and 5th of
1962, Florida citrus industry had a very, very, significant freeze. Not as bad as
we had in 1998 but when we had that freeze, Dad had his own the company
had its own single __ he had his own fresh fruit packing; and he had a
concentrate plant. Boy, when you freeze, you go to the groves that you know
are hurt the worst and you bring that fruit in, first. If you don't, it won't be there
six weeks from now. So, you start from your most damaged to your least
damaged. Of course, Dad had been handling freezes ever since he was old
enough to know if it got a certain coldness, it was going to burn your trees and
hurt your fruit. It was either Banker's Trust or Prudential Insurance Company.
Maybe, it was a combination of both. But, in 1962, he made sufficient profit after
taxes, to completely wipe out his debt. He was in position. This was very
important to my father. He says, always be in position. If you are not in
position, you can have the most wonderful thing -- [an] opportunity to do
something, but if you don't have the money or if you don't have the reputation
with the banks or the insurance companies to loan you the money, then, you will
just have to let that opportunity pass you by. So, position.
P: Earlier, when we were interrupted, you were telling about the fire at the little
G: Yeah, little packing house.
P: Little packing house.
G: Fresh fruit packing house.
P: I don't think you got the opportunity to finish that story.
G: I think the conclusion of that story was I lived about three or four miles from the
office. Dad called me that morning oh, four o'clock. He got the information
first, of course. So, he called me and told me that the packing house was on
fire. [There was] no way to put it out. You could have a hundred fire trucks out
and you are not going to put out [a building made of] heart of pine. [It would
be] like throwing a match on some gasoline. But, I dressed and left my house
quickly. I went to where he was. I don't recall exactly whether he was in
Frostproof or down there. I do remember going down to the packing house and
it was still on fire. But when I left my house, looking to the south, straight as the
crow flies, it would be ten or twelve miles to Avon Park (maybe, a little less), I
could see that red glow in the sky. I knew what that red glow was. Now, it
wasn't way up in there, you know. Right on the horizon, I could see this red
glow. That was the packing house burning to the ground and everything that
[was] in it. All of the records, all of the tokens and mementoes, any plaques or
anything like that, they are history. He didn't even peck around in the ashes. It
wasn't there; [it had] burned up.
P: Ben Hill, would you go back and comment on the cause of your father's death.
G: It now comes back to me that my father died of course, if he had lived seven
months more, he would have been eighty years old. So, he was seventy-nine
and a half when he passed away. He had been searching for [an answer]. He
had this ailment and he went to Mayo and all these different hospitals and
nobody could diagnose [him]. Oh, there were several diagnoses, [but they were]
all wrong. Dad was kind of a doctor, himself. He knew what the doctors had
told him about the different medicines and many times he would make the
mistake of doctoring himself rather than going to the doctor. But that is another
story. He died as a result of a disease known as hemochromatosis. And I can't
give you the medical explanation of that disease. Hemo- means blood.
Chromatosis, I don't know what that means. But, that is what he died of; as a
result of the damage of a disease to the body known as hemochromatosis. It is
a blood disease whereby your body, probably through genetics (all of our
systems are different) but his body produced excess iron. Had he found out
about this, (see, he had been searching for) [a diagnosis, he could have been
treated earlier]. He didn't know what it was; nobody else knew what it was. But
he was searching for somebody to find something that would help him because
none of them had. Finally, at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida, they
came up with a very firm conclusion that my father had hemochromotosis, heavy
iron in the blood. Treatment, very simply. [There was] no medications that I
remember that he had to have. But when you have high iron in your blood, you
give a pint of blood. And as you give blood, then your body, out of the bone
marrow, remakes the blood and that lowers the percent of iron that you have got
in your body. Then you monitor it and if it is not at the right level, you give
another pint of blood. You can give a pint of blood, I don't know, maybe once a
month. I don't know. I know one man, very close, he gave a pint of blood every
month. Didn't hurt him a bit. You know, he didn't have to have a coke or
anything. He would just go give a pint of blood and tell those pretty nurses
goodbye and he went back to work. So, had they found it early enough, [to
make a] long story, short, had he have had several years, and I don't know how
many months he needed, but they didn't diagnose it fast enough. He [began]
giving blood but it was already pretty heavy damage to the liver by that time.
So, it was, at that point, I guess you would say, it was non-reversible. So, he
was on a short term risk. He was wanting me to tell people, hemochromotosis.
Maybe that will help somebody else.
P: Let's go back to when you took over the management of the Ben Hill Griffin
Enterprises. What were the most difficult problems that you were confronted
with once the decision-making was yours?
G: Quite frankly, those people like my secretary and top executives in the
organization like the vice presidents, etc. it was such an easy transition. Don't
think I don't miss my father, you know, because I want to live to be 105 or 110 or
however long. I want to live a long time. But you see, he had trained me.
Trained me, trained me, trained me, all through my life to be prepared to take
over. I was fifteen years old and he took me to New York to the Minute Maid
Board Meeting. I don't even know whether it was legal for me to be in there, but
he got me in there. You know, he took me on sales trips. We went to Montreal
or Quebec when I was -- gosh, I couldn't drive, legally. I could drive. I learned
to drive when I was nine years old. I drove a truck on our ranches so the men
on the back, could throw out the grass. I had a thousand acres out there [with]
no trees on it so I couldn't get in too bad trouble.
P: So, you had the same management team that he had?
G: Oh, yes. Yes, sir. And they all knew me. See, I was Dad's right hand man.
He never bought anything [without my input] now, he may have bought it even
though I might be against it. He never bought anything without me knowing as
much as he did and either agreeing, or if I disagreed, [I would] tell him, even
though it might make him mad. But that was kind of the relationship we had. If
he wanted something, I kind of knew why he wanted it. [For example,] when he
ran for governor. The night before -- it was getting close to the last filing date -
he gathered all of his political confidants together -- I was there he went around
the room. What do you think about me running? What do you think about me
running? And they would tell him. Of course, the guy that was the campaign
manager said, let's go for it. You can do it. You can win. Well, if he had won,
that man would have been in strong position in the governor's office doing
something. I don't know what. But by him doing that, even as late as 1985, he
made a very, very large acquisition of some ranch land which, oh, my gosh, it
swamped. It is a number of acres, that in that acquisition [became] swamped;
[these were] acres that were in the company that he had been building up over
his business career. I saw it the same time he did. He called me and he said,
(it was a Thursday or a Friday) and he says, I am looking at this particular
ranch.... He didn't say, can you go? or anything else. He says, I want you to
be with me Saturday. You be at my house at seven o'clock or a little earlier, if
you want to. We have to wait until we get some light. I went to his house. I
got there at a quarter to seven or something like that. Come on with me. [We]
went down to the Clock Restaurant in Avon Park. The Clock Restaurant, I think,
stays open twenty four hours a day. So, we had breakfast there and read the
paper and noted anything significant to our business. Then we met...we went on
down to this big ranch and met up with this guy who was going to show us this
ranch. He had a brand new Wagoneer. And he started showing us the ranch.
And this is the ranch that if you spent all day, you didn't see it all. It was a little
bit wet in places. The guy, the realtor that showing it to us, he didn't really know
the ranch very well. He had hunted it. He kind of got a little bit disoriented.
[End of side A2]
G: So this man is going to show us the property. He had his real estate license and
we had known him a long time. As a matter of fact, this man oh, gosh, ten
years ago he was in his late forties. My father hired him to work on his Peace
River Ranch and I remember him. He is a fine man because we cow hunted
together. He worked for us a couple of years. His name was Roland Skipper.
He lived just south of Zolfo Springs about three miles. You turn left and his house
is to the east down there about two and half miles. He is very talented in the
cattle business. Anyway, we spent all day on that ranch. One place we got to,
it was so wet, (he had a brand new Wagoneer [with] just the three of us in there),
he and dad and I.... My Dad always said, you know how to keep from getting
stuck? You know that, don't you? The secret to not getting stuck is, don't ever
stop. If you keep it moving, you won't ever get stuck. Well, this water was
about, I'd say a foot to a half a foot, all out in the palmettos. Palmettos were
low. Palmettos this was prairie land. Palmettos weren't a foot and half high.
Of course, Roland Skipper knew, as well as Dad that if you ever slowed down,
that gravity would ultimately stick him. He would get stuck. So, he had to gun
that Jeep strong enough to keep it moving because if he ever slowed down that
mud and all would drag him down and then if he slowed too much, if he shouted
down on the accelerator, he would spin down and be stuck. I mean, he had to
keep it moving. We will laugh about this. He and I have laughed about it many
times. But while he was doing this, all of sudden right in front of us, like twenty
feet or something, here jumps up a dad-gummed ten point buck beautiful,
beautiful buck and he just kind of looked off from us. Then, he got out there
and gave a side view. He just kind of looked. He never just got down and ran.
Well, Roland Skipper knew my father real well. He knew he loved the land and
he knew he loved deer and turkey and all those things, [including] quail, dove.
Dad always fed the game, year round. Hunting season is what, two and a half
months long? But he would feed the game all year around because he enjoyed
nature and that sort of thing. So, when that big, old ten point buck jumped up,
Roland Skipper just kind of smiled inside. He said, man, that right there, was
worth fifty thousand dollars, to have that buck jump up. So, we ended up at
noon on the southeast end of this ranch on a well known creek that is called Fish
Eating Creek. This ranch is kind of pretty much in the area of the head waters, if
you will. That goes on down, binds itself to Palmdale, north of LaBelle and turns
farther to the east and ends up in Lake Okeechobee and we know where Lake
Okeechobee drains. It helps thousands and thousands of people, hundreds of
thousands of people, you might say. So, we were riding along there. And of
course, Dad was asking questions. He knew the answers before he ever asked
them. So, we ended up on Fish Eating Creek for lunch. Roland had prepared a
little cooler. He pulled out three of the most beautiful new York strips [steaks] I
have ever seen. They were an inch and a quarter thick. He had the charcoal
and the lighter and the little grill. There was an old picnic table down there,
which he knew was there. I didn't. I know Daddy didn't know it was there. So,
we had lunch right there. Steak and I forget what, potato chips and he maybe
had some Dad loved greens. There are a couple of names for those greens,
turnip greens, collard greens doesn't matter. There is another one. Mustard
greens. Mustard greens were his favorite. They are a little bit sweeter and a
little bit easier to eat. He might have had that. I don't remember. It was 1985.
[To make a] Long story, short, we had a nice little lunch there. Dad, at that age,
he always liked to take a little what I call a power nap. So, he lay down on
the ground; he had some kind of a little blanket or something. He lay down. He
found some oak tree that had a nice trunk to put his head on. He was asleep in
about three minutes. That is a talent I wish I had. He had it. So, Roland and I
walked up and down the creek, looked at the gators, alligators, fish and whatever
else, squirrels -- I don't remember if we saw a turkey. I really don't. But we
could have. And we reminisced some about he and I cow hunting down there
on Peace River Ranch -- that time that he and I went in the swamp. It was
about six inches of water and Peace River had gotten out of its banks, just a little
bit, not much. Rattlesnakes -- they don't like water. So, if you are in the water,
you don't have to worry about rattlesnakes. You get up there on the hill where
the Palmettos are, you better keep that in the back of your mind. He and I were
riding side by side, horseback, about that far apart. We were back riding. Back
riding is when you gather a pasture all of the cows and calves and so forth -
and you know how many are in there, and there are ten of them missing. Well,
you send one or two men back to back-ride. Well, I was young but I been on
that ranch and I had my own horse and saddles and I did a lot of riding then. If I
got on a horse today, if I rode that horse, even with soft saddle; if I rode that
horse for an hour and a half, man, I will tell you what, I would be so sore where
that saddle had been bumping my rear end and so forth, your thighs and
all... because I am not in condition for that. We were riding side by side in the
river swamp -- beautiful, big oak trees. The river is just a little ways over there
and you see squirrels jumping around. All of a sudden Roland saw him first -
there was a seven foot rattlesnake, twenty one rattles and a button. That is a
monster rattlesnake. He had some little turf, I guess he had there. I guess. I
don't know. But that snake was all wrapped up in a circle or about if you join
your hands together and lap it over a little bit he was pretty tight. He never
rattled. I don't know -- I guess his rattler was wet. Like whistling when you
don't have enough wet to whistle. Anyway, he never rattled. So, Roland
Skipper saw him first. So, he rears his horse to the left. You know, he just did
his thing instinctively. I saw where he was looking and I turned my horse and hit
him with my spurs to make him turn right as quick as possible. If he struck,
maybe we had our back to him or something. If he struck, we never saw it. He
never hit our horses which was number one. We had darn good horses. You
know, they weren't something that you would put a picture on the wall but they
were good at what they were known to be, good cow horses. They would watch
a calf and know which way that calf was going to move before that calf even
knew where he was going to go. Roland had a pistol, I think it was a thirty two
colt in the saddle bag. So, after he calmed down and I calmed down, the snake
didn't run off or swim off. He just stayed there, coiled. Roland shot him three
times. Bam, bam, bam. Never hit him. He was full of adrenalin. He couldn't
hit the back side of a barn with a base fiddle. So I guess that calmed him down
a little bit. I don't think he had any extra shells so he had about three shots left
and weren't going to leave there until that snake was dead. So, rather than
getting out a getting a big old stick and beating him to death and getting fearful
that he might charge you or something. We needed to kill that thing with the
pistol. So, next shot, he got him, pretty darn good, not in his head but just in the
back of the head maybe, oh, six inches. Isn't it amazing? I am telling this story
and that was forty four years ago. And I remember just like it was yesterday, or
today. Anyway, he hit the snake pretty hard, enough to disable him, so the
snake was not as effective as he would be otherwise. At that point, Roland
either got off his horse or got his horse closer and you know, it wasn't his first
rodeo. He knew how to shoot. He wasn't a marksman or anything but he could
shoot that pistol. He had a thirty eight colt, which is normally a short barrel but
his was a longer barrel so that you can aim at something on out there. [With a ]
Short barrel you can't aim very far and have much accuracy. Anyway, he got up
there close enough and he killed the snake. We pulled our horses aside and
watched to make sure that he was dead. You don't want to mess around with a
half dead snake. Do you all know that rattlesnakes can redevelop their fangs in
a very short period of time? If you look at their fangs, it is actually a tooth and
there is a fang on each side and they curl down. And it is like you had cut
diagonally across the end of it, the fang. There is a tube that runs up inside that
fang. And that is where the venom is. See, the venom is on up in the cheek
area. So, when he strikes, he can actually cut you and if he does it fast enough,
that venom hasn't got down there and you are all right. You have been struck
by a rattlesnake but you are all right. But, don't count on that. But behind those
fangs if he breaks on off if you ever get a chance to look at a rattlesnake that
has been preserved or something look at it and right behind the one that is
already out, you can see at least two more. So, if he break one of those off,
then the other ones starts emerging. I don't know how long that takes. I would
guess maybe a week. That is to rearm him; that is the way Mother Nature made
him. So, the snake was dead. He cut the rattlers off. If you are a rancher or a
cattleman, you always cut the rattlers off, to prove that you killed the snake. Do
you know how to tell the difference between a male and a female rattlesnake?
Good gracious. You all are missing education. Very simple. Not that you are
worried about the sex of the rattlesnake. My father always said if you catch a
rattlesnake, don't put him in the box. Kill that rattlesnake right then. If you
don't, you are giving that rascal another opportunity to get you. So, if you get
hold of a rattlesnake, kill him. He used that argument in the legislature one time.
It was a bill that he wanted to kill, dead. And somebody else said, well, maybe
we ought to consider tabling it or let's think about it and bring it up next year.
And I forget which bill it was, Vernon. But he got up on the floor I think he was
in the senate. He was arguing real hard to defeat this bill. And he referred to
that bill as a rattlesnake. If you get a rattlesnake, don't mess around and put
him in a box. Go ahead and kill him. You know what he is. [If] You kill him, you
don't have to fear him, anymore. But a female rattlesnake has got even rattlers
except right at the end, there may be one small rattler and then a button. When
you talk to somebody how many rattlers you say, well, he had twenty-one rattlers
and a button. That means that he is producing another one. So, the female is
equal sided on the rattlers before they get to the snake. The male is in darn
near a perfect "V", rattler, rattler, rattler and a button. So, if somebody ever
shows you a rattlesnake, you can say, huh, by golly, that is a male. And this
other one here is a female. Remember that. Let me mention a couple of
stories about my father and then we will move on to whatever you want to talk
about. Okay? I told you about his long range plans. When I was about
twenty-two or twenty-three years old so, of course, you never just went in to my
father's office. He said, I don't necessarily mind you coming in. That isn't the
point. But I might be talking to some important people and you come blowing in
that door and I am in the middle of something, concentrating on and you mess
me up. So, before you come, you call. I'll tell you if it is time to come in or wait
five minutes and come on in. I have been looking for you. Why didn't you call
me earlier? But this one [time], there was some very bad news, I thought in the
Florida citrus industry and I called him. I said, Dad, I [have] got something. I
have got to see you right now. Come on up. So I zipped up those steps and I
knew what I was talking about. I came in that office and I said, boy, I have got
some bad news' Dad said, stop. Right there. Don't say another word. You
give me the news and I'll tell you whether it is good or bad. I said, all right, sir.
I have got some news. And I told him. He said, boy, that is bad [laughing].
So, I have always remembered that. You know, something might be bad for me
but it might be good for you. So, give them the new and they will tell you
whether it is good or bad. It might be bad on one side but might be something
real good as a result of that. So, the bad news may be about this high but the
good news is over here and all you are looking are is the bad. But that is
another story. One that I came on, I don't how I came up with it I think maybe,
it was a takeoff on the good-news-bad-news. A lot of times, I will have my
executives and people that I depend on to help me, I will ask them, what do you
know about that property that you went to see yesterday? Well, sir, I think that
is a good deal and I think this and I think that. I think this is kind of a negative
and .... And I am listening to all of this. I said, no, no, stop. You did not hear
me. You did not understand. I asked you what you knew. I didn't ask what
you think. If I wanted to ask you what you think, I would have asked you what
you think about that property? But I asked you what you knew about that.
What do you know about that property? All right, sir. I know it is this variety.
Let's talk about oranges. I know it is this variety of oranges. I know that it is x
number of trees per acre. I know it is a thirteen-inch well. I know it is x number
of acres. I know it is on a certain root stock. And in my mind, it has a pretty
good crop of fruit. That is what I know about it. Then, I might say, well, what do
you think about that deal? Boss, I think it is a darn good deal. I think we ought
to get on it. I don't know what the price is because you know, you have always
handled the price. But if you can get the price in something that you feel right....
When I do that I have a little bit of regret, later on because I don't mean to beat
up on somebody but when I ask you.... Now, they know. When I ask them
what they know about it, they tell me what they know. And then, sometimes I
say, what do you know and what do you think? But, anyhow, that was one of
mine. If I ask somebody to tell me what know about a particular subject or a
property, I don't want them to start telling me well, I think this and I think that. I
want to know what you know. I don't tell them that. What do you know about
it? It is just a little quirk of mine. We are kind of getting to the short, here. We
have got about fifteen minutes, I guess.
P: Let me ask you one question before I forget it. Did you hunt every hunting
season and did you usually hunt with your father?
G: I hunted every hunting season.
P: Did you hunt with your father and what did you generally hunt for?
G: I hunted with my father. We would have just a small group, five or six. Or we
would have sixteen. That is how many we could sleep on a weekend, Friday
and Saturday. We would have dove shoots where we would bring in, maybe
twenty customers and friends. Dad mainly wrapped friendship and business
together, you know. And he might get you on the hunting rig and you all would
be hunting quail and you would be shooting quail, however, between coveys, he
might be talking to you about what should the education budget what do you
think about the education budget, Vernon? And you all would just talk back and
forth. And, you know, he would have an opportunity to get more familiar with
what you tell him and he would probably take the opportunity to inform you of
what he was thinking. So, there was a lot of that. So, I hunted with him like
be on the same jeep, hunting jeep. There would be myself and he and maybe
two others and a driver. Most of the time when we had more than just four or
five, I was next in command. Any of our guests that I saw that needed
something...come on over here. Help the representative. Help the senator.
Help the governor. Help this man; he is from New York. Don't talk to him about
money because he has more money than you can afford, [he is a] banker. I was
just jumping into it myself, you know. The drive in and I would be outside,
meeting them. Dad would be in the house later in life, the cartilage in his
ankles started giving way and rather than getting them fixed, he just suffered it
out. So, his ankles would get...he didn't like to walk too far because it hurt him.
So, I would be out there and if you were coming in, I would meet you and hey,
Representative. Let me grab that bag. Welcome to Peace River Ranch. You
don't need your gun. Just leave your gun in your vehicle, there. In the morning
when we leave, you can just take your gun and get ready and let's go deer
hunting, turkey hunting, whatever hunting we are going to do. You don't need to
bring it in the house. [The new visitor doesn't know the routine.] See. The first
time he has been there. Or maybe he has been there and had forgotten it is
best just to leave your weapons out there. You might say, well, wait a minute. I
have got some work to do on this. Fine. Bring it on in the house. [We will] see
if we can't get that thing in top shape. Bring it in. I have got a suitcase and
you have got a suitcase or a bag...I always tried to get the biggest and bulkiest
things to be a help to you. Hopefully, before I got to the house one of our men
out of the kitchen, generally we had two of them, two good we have had
Caucasians and the two we have had the longest, they are black boy, they are
good. They love people. They love to make people happy. They love to cook
for you. We would get in the house and you would probably stop off and Dad
sitting there he is standing by now. He doesn't want you know that his ankles
are hurting him. How are you doing? Come on over here. If it is Friday
evening, you know, six o'clock. Would you like to have something to drink?
No, sir, I am fine. Fine. You don't mind me having one, do you? No, sir, you
go ahead. I would say, Vernon, you see this long hall here, you are in bedroom
number 3. It has got a number on it. We are going to put all of your bags in
there. Okay? You and Dad can visit. Maybe there are a couple of other guys,
there. You all can visit and when you get ready to -- if you want to change or
whatever, you know exactly where your room is. You know all your baggage is
there. And your shotgun that you want to repair -- it is in there, too. If you want
to, then you can do it. If you didn't want to do it, it is your decision. So, that is
the way that he and I operated. I always cooked. Early on, we always had a
steak on Saturday night. He loved stewed chicken over rice and gravy and a
peach or a pear to go along with that. And some string beans and homemade
biscuits. Oooh, I could eat it every Friday night. As much as I love steak, that
stewed chicken is good. But that would be the routine. Some men would
come. We had some ladies [who] would come, [and] some bankers
representing their bank. We always made sure they got in a bedroom with their
own private bathroom, etc. Some of our other rooms, you have to share a bath,
you know. There wasn't a lot of ladies.
P: Most of the hunting was at the Peace River Ranch?
G: Then, it was. Yes, then it was. He had a ranch he ran cattle in Polk County
but we didn't have the game up here. Nor did we have the ranch house facilities
to take care of ourselves and our guests. So, down there we have got the
original old house. It has about four original bedrooms. It will sleep three, four,
five, sleep ten people. Then we had a bunkhouse that will sleep four men or one
couple and a child. They take the double and then we had a nice single side if
they had a whatever, sibling, age, if they wanted to be in the other room, you
know. Then, he had his own house, twenty yards away from the front house.
P: Your hunting was not just for hunting but for social and business purposes?
G: Yeah. [We ] had a ball. Still do. Love for you all to go down there. We ought
to go down and tape some of this, right down there. Now, I could tell you some
stories down there. I don't have air conditioning so don't come dressed like that.
You will need to wear a light clothing, shorts or something like there. Now, if the
wind is blowing, you know, it would be comfortable without it [air conditioning] but
it is just a tin roof. It would be okay, don't you think? I think I have touched the
stories that I have thought of. There are so many more. I have given you about
P: There is additional ground that we need to cover but there is no need to try to get
into that, today, because we are running close. We can do it next time. Well,
the main things yet to be covered is of course, Florida Gulf Coast University.
G: Oh, yeah. We are going to need -
[End of interview]