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George Mullendore: In the world of cotton, he was a rock star

When I came to Delta Farm Press, in the mid-1970s, one of my weekly chores was to edit the articles that came in the mail (long before fax or e-mail) from a sizable roster of contributors in the Mid-South states — mainly Extension and research specialists.

All (except one) arrived already typed up (remember typewriters?), and I edited them for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure (long before SpellCheck).

The lone exception was an article that invariably showed up at the very last minute, handwritten on lined yellow legal paper, or sometimes hotel/motel stationery, and once, memorably, on a couple of paper bar napkins from some fancy resort.

Thus began my long acquaintance with George Mullendore, Mississippi Extension cotton agronomist, who was then on the cusp of a career that would lead to his becoming an internationally recognized authority on, and voice for, U.S. cotton. And as Farm Press’ reach expanded to encompass the U.S. cotton belt, he gained an even wider exposure in the agricultural community.

I doubt there is a cotton-growing region on the planet that he didn’t visit during his long Extension career, but whether Texas or Tajikistan, Arkansas or Australia, he always found a way to get his weekly column to us.

To characterize George as unique would be gross understatement. When he walked into a meeting room or a remote cotton field, you knew he was there. He exuded self-confidence and authority. In the world of cotton, he was a rock star, amassing honors and recognition galore.

But always, in whatever group he found himself, he brought laughter, story-telling, and sharing of experiences. “He never met a stranger” applied in spades to George.

Will McCarty, who later served as Mississippi’s Extension cotton specialist, laughingly recalls: “I was a country boy, as was George, and I thought I was pretty tough and could take whatever was thrown at me. But I couldn’t keep up with George. When I’d be heading off to bed after a long, tiring day, George would still be going strong, and when I got up next morning he’d already be drinking coffee.”

George had a couple of characteristics we in the publishing world value: He unfailingly returned phone calls, no matter how far-flung the outpost, and he never refused a comment on any issue related to cotton, agriculture, or the politics involved. He said what he meant, often as not laced with a few unprintable words — and once he said it, he’d stand by it, come hell or high water.

George, who grew up in rural Mississippi, began his career as an associate county agent, went on to earn a Ph.D. at Mississippi State University, and was steeped in the culture of the Land Grant system. He staunchly believed in the development of knowledge in the public system, of sharing and disseminating that knowledge as effectively as possible through the outreach programs of that system.

In the long and costly program to rid the nation of the boll weevil — the pest that had ruined growers' hopes for decades — he joined cotton industry leaders and growers in support of the effort. The program was not without controversy and opposition ... but it worked. It was long after his retirement, but he lived to see the boll weevil eliminated in the Southeast, with success on the horizon in the Southwest. And thousands of growers have been, and will be, beneficiaries of the countless hours and miles that he and others spent in bringing the program to fruition.  

I crossed paths with him occasionally in his post-retirement years and he was the same old George: laughing, outgoing, enjoying golf with friends and reveling in the joys of family and the university community that had been so much a part of his life.

At his funeral, down by the altar, was a large color photo of George in a field of beautiful white cotton. Nothing could’ve been more apropos.

Happy trails, George. To borrow one of your phrases: You done good.