The late Earl Sears, a former National Cotton Council executive vice president whose core belief was that “devotion to service is fundamental to success” received the 18th Oscar Johnston Lifetime Achievement Award. He was honored at the National Cotton Council’s 2020 annual meeting held February 14-16 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The annual award, established in 1997, is named for Oscar Johnston, whose vision, genius and tireless efforts were foremost in the shaping and organization of the NCC. The award is presented to an individual, now deceased, who served the cotton industry, through the NCC, over a significant period of his or her active business career. The award also recognizes those who exerted a positive influence on the industry and who demonstrated character and integrity as well as perseverance and maturation during that service.
The award was presented by outgoing NCC Chairman Mike Tate to Sears’ widow, Gwen Sears; his son, David Sears; and his daughter, Kristi Goldsmith.
In two tenures with the NCC, Sears had more than 30 years of service to U.S. cotton’s central organization. After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1948, the Brownfield, Texas native spent three years as head of Vocational Agriculture at Lamesa’s high school before joining the NCC.
Sears began his NCC career in Lamesa operating as a field representative in the High Plains. He quickly moved up to southwest area supervisor and transferred to Memphis, then to Dallas, and was heavily involved in formation of the Cotton Producers Institute, out of which grew Cotton Incorporated.
In 1965, he joined Hesston Corporation as product manager for its cotton equipment and later was named marketing manager for the firm’s complete line of farm equipment. After rejoining the NCC in 1971, Sears was made administrative vice president four years later, and three years after that, was named executive vice president. For the next 11 years, Sears oversaw a six-fold growth in NCC-managed programs. He helped move the industry forward whether it was advocating for innovative federal farm legislation like the marketing loan concept to pushing for expansion of international markets.
Among other notable strides achieved under Sears’ helm were improved bale packaging; advancement of the National Boll Weevil Eradication Program; and growth of The Cotton Foundation’s research, education and communications programs.
Sears record was cited in 1989, when he became the third recipient of the Harry S. Baker Award, presented annually for distinguished service to the industry, and again in 1992 when he received the National Agri-Marketing Association’s National Award for Agricultural Excellence.
Tate noted that Sears’ 1989 retirement did not mean a loss of his talent to the industry as he played a lead role in coordinating a special fund-raising effort that led the Cotton Foundation to purchase an office building now occupied by the NCC’s Washington. D.C. staff.
“With the debt on the building retired, rent paid by the Council accrues to the Cotton Foundation for use in industry research and education efforts,” Tate said.
Previous Oscar Johnston Lifetime Achievement Award recipients were Robert Chapman and Walter Montgomery, Sr., both Spartanburg, S.C., textile manufacturers; Duke Kimbrell, a Gastonia, N.C., textile manufacturer; William Garrard, first general manager of Greenwood, Miss.-based Staplcotn Cooperative; Sykes Martin, a Courtland, Ala., producer; Charlie Owen, a Tucson, Ariz., ginner; William Rhea Blake, a former NCC executive vice president, Memphis, Tenn.; Roger Malkin, long-time chairman/CEO of Delta and Pine Land, Scott, Miss.; former NCC presidents, George C. Cortright, Jr., a Rolling Fork, Miss., producer; Jack Hamilton, a Lake Providence, La., producer/ginner/warehouseman; William “Bill” Lovelady, a Tornillo, Texas, producer; Lon Mann, a Marianna, Ark., ginner; Jack McDonald, a Decatur, Ill., cottonseed crusher; Jack Stone, a Stratford, Calif., producer; and Charles Youngker, a Buckeye, Ariz., producer; former NCC chairman James E. “Jim” Echols, a Memphis, Tenn., merchant; and W.L. “Billy” Carter, Jr., of Scotland Neck, N.C., who chaired the American Cotton Producers and served as NCC secretary-treasurer.