Legendary agribusiness broadcaster Orion Samuelson remembered the late Rep. Jerry Litton as someone destined to be president due to his leadership skills
Samuelson talked about Litton during the kickoff of the Jerry Litton Lectureship Series, Oct. 15 at the University of Missouri Monsanto Auditorium.
The series is sponsored by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) through the Jerry Litton Fund for Agricultural Leadership, which is designed to expand the entrepreneurial potential of students. Litton, a 1961 MU graduate in agricultural journalism, died tragically in a 1976 plane crash on the night he won the Democratic nod for U.S. Senate.
Samuelson recognized Litton’s charisma and commitment to agriculture during an interview when Litton was a national FFA officer. “I’ll visit you in the White House someday,” Samuelson told the high school student after their first interview. Throughout a radio career that has spanned more than five decades, Samuelson said he never met anyone else with Litton’s magnetism.
The late Jerry Litton
Their paths would cross many times after, with Litton’s savvy speaking abilities making him a natural for Samuelson’s farm broadcasts, including Chicago station WGN’s morning show, the daily “National Farm Report” and his “Samuelson Sez” weekly commentary. “I really felt he was presidential material and his untimely death was a tragedy and loss for America,” Samuelson said.
Samuelson used his trademark humor to talk of Litton’s drive in his “Let’s Push the Wheelbarrow Right Side Up” address. He said a foreman had watched a worker who pushed an upside-down wheelbarrow two days in a row. On the second day, he asked the worker why he pushed the wheelbarrow upside down. The worker commented, “If you push it right side up, someone puts something in it.” Litton never pushed upside down, Samuelson said, and preferred to overload his wheelbarrow.
Samuelson echoed the sentiments of others who knew Litton. Fraternity brother and former MU curator Paul Steele remembered Litton as someone who “was going to do great things.” Litton’s poise as a public speaker and knowledge of parliamentary procedure were a strong foundation to be an advocate for agriculture.
Another classmate, Edwin Turner, said Litton was a “big thinker who was willing to pay the price to make his dreams come true.” Turner serves as vice president of the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation.
MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, who was unable to attend but sent written greetings, called Litton “one of Missouri’s favorite sons” and one of the “great communicators on agriculture” who tirelessly advocated for the rights of hardworking farmers. Vice Chancellor and CAFNR Dean Tom Payne talked of Litton’s great ability to inspire others and be a role model.
Bryan Garton, associate dean and chairman of the Litton Leadership Development Advisory Group with CAFNR, recognized the first group of 15 Litton Leadership Scholars: Daniel Bonacker, Cedar Hill; Clarissa Brown, Troy; Aubrey Ellison, Mount Vernon; Jenny Gann, St. Joseph; Cody Jones, Fulton; Kelsie Lovelace, Palmyra; Kevin Reininger, Flint Hill; Shannon Yokley, Jefferson City; Breanne Brammer, Gallatin; Monica Campen, Canton; Kaitlin Flick, Pleasant Hill; Maggie Hardwick, Salisbury; Courtney Leeper, Trenton; Natoshia Minor, Butler; and Kent Shikles, Russellville. Each year, deserving students are selected to become part of a yearlong leadership development experience that will challenge them to lead while on campus and in their future career fields.
“It is such an honor to be selected as a member of the inaugural Litton Leadership Scholars class,” said scholar Shannon Yokley, a sophomore science and agricultural journalism major. “The opportunities, like listening to Orion Samuelson, that are provided to us are priceless. Not only do we get to learn about leadership through class and the Litton Lectureship Series, we also get to take that leadership and put it into action on campus and in our hometowns.”
About Jerry Litton
Litton was born in a farmhouse without plumbing or electricity near Lock Springs, a Daviess County town with a population in the double digits. When an accident left his father disabled, his mother supported the family by selling milk from the family’s 11 cows. While a student at Chillicothe High School, Litton served as president of both the National Honor Society and the Chillicothe chapter of Future Farmers of America. In 1956-1957, he was elected FFA national secretary. He graduated from MU in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism and a minor in economics. After college, he returned to the family’s successful Charolais cattle farm and began promoting youth involvement in agriculture and rural communities.
In 1972, Litton was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he advocated for the rights of farmers and consumers. The Congressional Club, which Litton conceived and organized in his district, sponsored a monthly television program, “Dialogue with Litton,” which aired statewide.
In his 1976 run for the U.S. Senate, he handily defeated the son of incumbent Sen. Stuart Symington and former Gov. Warren E. Hearnes in the Democratic primary. As he was flying to a victory party, he, his wife, their two children, as well as Litton’s pilot and the pilot’s son, died in a crash shortly after takeoff.
Since his death, the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation has endowed the Jerry Litton Fund for Agricultural Leadership and numerous other projects designed to promote youth leadership.