January 2022 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter
By J. Scott Angle
Longtime Washington County Farm Bureau board member Bruce Christmas doesn’t recall it being a hard sell. He simply suggested to Julie Pigott Dillard that she apply to become the UF/IFAS county Extension director.
Dillard remembers it a little differently. When the words come from your Sunday school teacher, it’s comes with extra high authority. At the very least, Dillard’s family was so intertwined with the Christmases that it was like getting advice from her grandfather.
Dillard, then Pigott, had grown up around Christmas. He was Mr. Agriculture, running the University of Florida’s Poultry Evaluation Center in Chipley and opening it up to 4-Hers and Chipley FFA. He brought Pigott and others to the center for practice as he built them into a state champion poultry judging team.
Pigott and Christmas family vacations included traveling to to regional or national FFA conventions. Her dad was the FFA adviser to all four of Christmas’s sons.
Christmas taught Dillard how to candle an egg. He helped organize the outing that gave Dillard her first look at a cotton gin. She was in the audience numerous times as he gave speeches about how important agriculture is to Florida.
In fact, he’s made a parallel career of telling the story of agriculture. His Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame nomination reports that he drove 66,000 unreimbursed miles to get to whatever audience would have him—schools, civic clubs, county fairs, Farm-City events. The 16,000 volunteer hours don’t seem possible, as they’d equate to seven and a half years of full-time work.
Whether the numbers are right, the story they tell is true. Christmas barnstormed for agriculture for decades.
He also has a long record of supporting UF/IFAS off the clock. For example, he got a visit from Dillard after she had gone away to college, and she confided to Christmas that she was considering a career in Extension. He told her she’d never find a more rewarding career. The endorsement was hugely influential in her career path.
When she returned to Washington County with a degree, a couple of years’ experience in Georgia Extension, and a husband, Christmas pulled them both back into the Farm Bureau fold. He recruited them into Young Farmers & Ranchers. And he tapped Nick to serve on the Farm Bureau board in 2002. Though Nick no longer works in agriculture, he still serves on the board.
Dillard has been the Washington County Extension director for about eight years, which gives her opportunities to talk about the importance of agriculture. She structures her delivery from her recollections of watching Christmas.
Dillard did a little storytelling of her own, sharing her history with Christmas to help Farm Bureau field representative Allen Scheffer nominate Christmas and his wife Addie Ann for the Florida Farm Bureau Distinguished Service Award.
It was a highlight of the annual convention in Orlando to see a 32-year UF/IFAS Extension professional receive such an honor. And the cooperation on the nomination was fitting, because Christmas has always worn two hats when he puts on that trademark Stetson of his, representing both organizations.
His close friends still call him Bruce. On the plaques he’s accumulated over the decades he’s identified as Dr. Christmas: Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, 4-H Hall of Fame, Kiwanian of the Year, and National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association volunteer of the year.
In some circles he’s even risen to the level of a monogram: RBC, short for his full name of Robert Bruce Christmas.
Christmas has been a part of UF/IFAS since there’s been a UF/IFAS. He worked as a graduate assistant in UF/IFAS founder E.T. York’s office and wrote the first brochure for SHARE Council, the volunteer group that supports the UF/IFAS fundraising office. He worked 32 years for Extension in Orange and Washington counties. He was a founding board member of the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association. He served on the Florida Ag Council, an important advisory group to UF/IFAS administration.
Perhaps Christmas could move so seamlessly between UF/IFAS and Florida Farm Bureau because we are both service organizations. Christmas embodies that service, and I congratulate him on his recent recognition and the Farm Bureau on spotlighting service by an agriculture legend.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).