A Nostalgic View of Ben Hill Griffin

While in law school in the ’60s at the University of Florida, I rode with my dad, Snow Martin, to Tallahassee. The legislature was in session. My dad, a former member of the legislature and co-author of the Florida Citrus Code, was lobbying for various interests. We paid a social visit to Ben Hill Griffin Jr. in his office. Friends for decades, they talked for a long time.

The next time I encountered Mr. Griffin was anecdotally in Atlanta in 1972 while attending a tax law seminar. A lawyer from Tampa had just visited Frostproof to discuss estate planning with the Griffins. He spoke to me, saying, “I just came from meeting Mr. Griffin. He talked about you. He said there is a lawyer in Lakeland named Mike Martin who has the courage to tell his clients the truth.”

From 1983 to 1985, Lakeland hosted three worldwide telecasts on CBS. Each telecast opened with a booming voice proclaiming, “Live from the Citrus Capital of the world, Lakeland, Florida, the Miss USA pageant.” The Department of Citrus co-sponsored the show for the first two years. The third request for a six-figure sum ran into a head wind. We showed clips of the first two shows. After much discussion, Chairman Ben Hill Griffin III said, “If we are going to do this at all, let’s do it right.” In that telecast, Lee Greenwood sang for the first time “God Bless the USA.”

We met again several years ago in Frostproof. Myself, along with the legendary Doyle Conner, met with Ben Hill Griffin III and IV on behalf of the FFA Foundation. Even in tough times, the Griffins were willing to continue supporting FFA. 

The last time we met, Joy and I rode with Ben Hill III in an airboat out to the Lightsey island for an event celebrating Warner University’s new agriculture program.

Each step of the way, every generation of the Griffins has supported the community. I look forward to meeting the next.

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