MAXWELL:  The citrus industry’s real heroes

12/26/1994 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


A group of Dittoheads (self-proclaimed worshipers of talk-show guru Rush Limbaugh) had the gall to nominate their demigod for the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.

So who cares if Limbaugh is inducted into an institution hardly anyone outside of the citrus industry has ever heard of? A lot of people care, because citrus is Florida’s lifeblood, and the hall of fame recognizes those who have greatly contributed to this essential part of our economy.

Consider some of hall’s inductees: French Count Odet Phillipe, who planted the first imported grapefruit seeds in Safety Harbor in the 1920s; Gen. Henry Shelton Sanford, former U.S. ambassador to Belgium who founded a grove conglomerate in the town that bears his name; Ben Hill Griffin Jr., the mogul known for his philanthropy; Tropicana Co. founder Anthony Rossi; former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Spessard Holland, a major grower; former Agriculture Commissioner Doyle Conner; and singer Anita Bryant, who put the “the Florida sunshine tree” on the world map. Bryant, of course, self-destructed after her homophobia became a major liability.

So getting one’s name engraved on a bronze plaque in the Citrus Hall of Fame is a high honor that Limbaugh, best known for his anti-women, anti-gay, anti-poor polemics, does not deserve. He certainly does not deserve to be honored for his controversial, divisive $1-million stint as orange juice pitchman, an effort that brought the industry modest returns at best.

How does a person get nominated for the Citrus Hall of Fame? Jerry Chicone, chairman of the hall of fame, said that anyone can send in a nomination, and the selection committee evaluates all submissions. “But to be elected, you must have given a lifetime of unselfish service to Florida’s citrus industry,” Chicone said. If that is the real test, then I am certain that Limbaugh’s nomination will be treated as the cruel joke that it is.

Obviously, I am using Limbaugh’s nomination to make a larger point about the 32-year-old hall of fame. Each of its 100 inductees was or is a scientist, a packer, a grower, a processor, a politician or a pitchperson who greatly increased sales during several years. But the one group of people _ the hard-working laborers, pickers, loaders, tractor drivers, truckers, pruners, tree-hoers, graders and all the rest _ who also should have their names engraved in bronze are not in the hall of fame.

Hundreds of thousands of these people _ earning less than minimum wage and lacking employee benefits, braving terrible weather, ducking wasps,fearing snakes, eating cold food, relieving themselves wherever they could, sometimes riding 150 miles a day _ toiled all of their lives to help make the industry rich. Few of them ever received a word of thanks from the owners.

None is in the hall of fame. Some should be. Or a plaque that simply recognizes the laborers (past, present and future) as a group would be appropriate. I made this suggestion to a spokesman for the Citrus Educational Research Center, where the hall of fame is presently housed, and he agreed. To honor these loyal, indispensable workers would be more than a symbolic gesture. To continue to ignore their contributions, while considering Rush Limbaugh even routinely, is an abomination.

Bill Maxwell is a Times columnist and editorial writer.

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