Ed Lightsey of Bibb County has worn many hats over his lifetime, but this summer he tipped his cap to the Mid-State Farmers Cooperative and bid a kind farewell as he retired from the Board of Directors after 30 years of service.
Quality Co-op stores have many valued customers and, in true "co-op fashion," some of these patrons have the honor of being elected to their respective store’s board of directors. They are respected for their leadership and wisdom in the farming-cooperative system. Just a few minutes with Lightsey and it’s easy to see why he was elected to this position.
As a board member, Lightsey has spent countless hours in his "thinking cap" contemplating new ideas to improve business and operations at Mid-State Farmers Co-op, but that’s just one of the hats he’s sported over the years.
In 1942, after graduating from Bibb County High School, Lightsey traded his mortarboard and tassel for the safety helmet of a pulp mill operation. Although he quickly traded that hat in, he wouldn’t soon forget the smell of the cut timber, a scent he said he’d come to love. Next he wore a mining helmet as he dug deep into the coal veins of Jefferson County for Tennessee Coal and Iron and Railroad Company (TCI) at the Docena Mine.
In 1943, he traded that helmet in for the white hat of the U.S. Navy and served on the battlefields of World War II.
After completing his service to his country, he went back to the coal mines of Jefferson County working for TCI. Lightsey noted his boss was a good man of great insight.
"He told me, ‘Ed, me and (a friend) had the same opportunity as you. Now he’s a doctor over there at the hospital and I’m crawling around down here in the ground; you better go to school,’" Lightsey said.
So he took his boss’s advice, slipped on his "Tiger Pride" cap and he headed east to Auburn University. Lightsey said he loved his time at Auburn and was careful to keep his priorities in order. He scheduled classes so he could hunt and fish, two of his great loves, as much as possible. But he had one other priority to tend to. In October, shortly after starting classes, Lightsey married a young lady named Juanita.
Thanks to his service in the military, his tuition and book expenses were covered. But it was up to him to cover his living expenses, so Lightsey put on his entrepreneur hat and found a couple of business opportunities to support him and his new bride. He worked in the University’s dairy barn during the daytime and in the evenings he made a little extra cash peddling goodies like chips and crackers at fraternity parties. He was quick to note he only worked fraternity parties because Juanita wouldn’t let him work at sorority functions.
Once again he found himself in a mortarboard and tassel, this time earning a degree in Agricultural Science from Auburn University. It wasn’t very long until he slipped off that mortarboard and accepted a job at a dairy in Hogansville, Georgia. But his love of hunting and fishing brought him back to the Heart of Dixie where 56 years ago he began working for the State of Alabama as a Fish and Game Law Enforcement Officer. Lightsey fondly recalled his time working for the state mentioning tales of wild cat-and-mouse chases down the Warrior River and creepy, nighttime encounters with rattlesnakes along the Cahaba.
Twenty-eight years later, Lightsey retired as a captain from Alabama’s Game and Fish Division. But retirement didn’t mean idle time for this active man — after all, he had even more hats to wear. Recalling the beloved scent of the pulp mill operation of his youth, Lightsey decided to go into the timber business this time running his own saw mill.
"I’m a one-man operation, unless I got someone to help me," he said with a smile.
Lightsey started his saw mill operation about the same time he was elected to the Mid-State Farmers Co-op’s Board of Directors, but he couldn’t recall whether it was 1979 or 1980.
He said laughing, "I tell people, it’s been 29 or 30 years. I couldn’t prove it, but there’s nobody still around to argue with me."
Although he retired from the Board this summer, he’s still in the timber business and if that doesn’t consume all his time, he’s found another hat to wear—a farmer’s hat. Lightsey grows tomatoes, corn, peppers, beans, sweet potatoes, turnips and mustard, but he doesn’t do it for a profit. Instead he gives it away to people and especially enjoys giving it to people who can’t give him anything in return.
Brandon Tew, former manager of Mid-State Farmers Co-op, said Lightsey shows that same kindness to everyone he meets.
"Mr. Lightsey is a friendly, caring person who is always concerned about others and their family," Tew said. "He has a lot of friends across the state from his job as a game warden and he can remember every one of them and their families. He always asks how they’re doing."
Lightsey was not only a valued board member at the Co-op, he is still a faithful patron of the store. Tew said Lightsey purchases his fertilizer, garden seeds, and food plot and deer supplies at the Co-op. While he’ll still make visits to the store as a customer, Tew said he will be missed at the board meetings.
"Mr. Lightsey did not say much during meetings. But, when he spoke, everyone listened and paid attention," he said. "We are so proud to have had him on the Board for so many years, and his input and leadership will be greatly missed."
Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.