Almost exactly a year ago we were celebrating with John Wilde, San Angelo, Texas, as the 2013 Farm Press High Cotton Award winner. Today, family and friends are mourning his passing but celebrating his life. And his life was one worth celebrating. He was a good man, one of the finest I’ve met in more than 35 years spent interviewing some of the best people on the planet.
John Wilde was husband, father, grandfather, cotton farmer and my friend. He passed away last week following a battle with cancer.
He told me of his diagnosis in the fall of 2012, as we were riding over his farm, shooting photographs and collecting information for the article announcing his High Cotton Award. It was news I didn’t want to hear and I had a bit of trouble not breaking down as we rode his fields. But I borrowed some of his resolve and got through it. He was resigned but determined to meet the challenge head-on, as he did other obstacles. We had a good day, driving from one field to another, looking at some very good cotton and talking about his farm, his church, his community and, above all, his family.
He credited his wife, Betty Jo, with keeping him grounded. He said it was a joy and privilege to work on the farm every day with his sons, Doug and Matthew. He was equally proud of two daughters, Julia and Joanna. He doted on his grandchildren, Caroline and Anna Kate.
I had visited John’s farm many times in the past and was always impressed with what a good farmer he was. He was a conscientious steward of his resources.
Every fall, the Wilde farm hosted one of the best variety trial field days in the state. And he turned another large block of land over to Texas AgriLife Extension and Research to evaluate fungicides for cotton root rot. John had a perfect spot to evaluate root rot remedies. The field was heavily infested—a root rot nursery. Those efforts paid off. Extension pathologist Tom Isakeit says having that land available and having the cooperation of the Wilde farm was a big reason they identified a fungicide that offers control of the devastating plant disease.
But what I will remember most about John Wilde, and what I already miss, is his gentle nature, his warmth and his smile that greeted me every time I saw him. He always told me, “Ron, anytime you’re over this way, if there is anything I can do for you, just let me know.”
Folks say that all the time. John Wilde meant it.
John left too soon. He was only a year older than I am and that reminds us of our own mortality. But it also reminds us that, whether we realize it or not, our actions, our attitudes and our demeanor when we interact with others make an impression.
John always seemed to be smiling. He seemed to be a man who was happy to be where he was, to be doing what he was doing and to be among family and friends with whom he shared a heritage, a vision and great affection.
Today, I’m sad that my friend is no longer physically available for a handshake, a conversation and an update on his root rot research. But I can’t help but smile, too, when I recall what a kind, gentle, giving man he was. My life would have been less without knowing John Wilde.