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The story of a dynamic industry that dominated Lake County for more than 125 years
Orie Lee was an unbelievably remarkable man! There is no doubt that no one ever did more to foster citrus research, especially in the area of plant improvement, than Orie Lee. Over the years many growers have been strong cooperators with research, providing scientists with part of their grove for tests. I know none of them ever purchased land, prepared it for planting and then “gave” (as in providing the deed to UF) it to researchers to establish plots that he would maintain! That is way beyond generous, it is a reflection of his belief in and commitment to research, especially plant improvement. Orie was a hands on cooperator. He did not just let a researcher use his grove, he was an integral part of the entire project from planning to establishing to evaluating. In fact many of the projects were Orie’s ideas and he found a scientist to work with him to evaluate his thought. Orie was an observer. He spent many hours in the grove looking at the trees, studying the records and putting the pieces together. Of course he knew that research results were the final answer, but his observations played a strong role in the evaluation of a research plot. Orie was brilliant. It was amazing how much he knew about citrus; especially scions and rootstocks from all over the world. He knew the nuances of each cultivar, pros and cons of seedlings vs budded trees, role of soils and climate, and the role the market played in the plant improvement picture. Orie had records, as did the researcher, but it was amazing how much of years of research was stored between his ears. He would always defer to “the paper” (research document) to verify his memory, but he was rarely off base even a little. Orie was sharing. He gladly was the host for countless field days, gave numerous talks at all kind of events, gladly spent time one on one with you to discuss an issue, and was a willing mentor to many (growers, researchers, extension agents, salesman, etc.). Orie was especially fond of the Boy Scouts and would welcome them to his lakeside camping spot. His close friend and research partner Jude Grosser spent many weekends camping with his Boy Scout trop at Orie’s place.
Orie Lee, Harold McTeer, and Frank Savage are all members of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. They all were remarkable supporters of research through their hands on involvement and willingness to do whatever they could to find answers to questions and improve the plant material that is so vital to the industry. Frank Savage worked with Swingle and Webber more than 125 years ago. Harold was a contemporary of Orie than learned much from the “master”. I am sure that Orie inspired Harold and was partly responsible for the zeal and commitment Harold had for plant improvement research. Orie is at the top of my list, he is the gold standard for grower cooperators. There will never be someone with the generosity, commitment, intensity, intelligence, insight and ability to communicate research needs and results like him. I am sure there are/will be others that will work with research. Each of them should take a look at the legacy of Orie Lee to gain insight and inspiration. I know he provided that for me. Orie Lee’s contribution to the citrus industry will be felt worldwide for generations to come. It was truly a life changing experience to have been a friend of Orie Lee!
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