A Florida newspaper once called Robert Nelson Morris “The Banker with Muddy Boots” because of his hands-on involvement with the agricultural community. Devoting much of his own time in the service of Florida agriculture, Morris has been active for almost half a century, working at the local and state level to help farmers, growers and ranchers improve their products, marketing, and credit.
While educating Florida agriculturists on ways to keep credit institutions interested in the agriculture industry, Morris has labored tirelessly trying to keep credit resources available to agriculture. He was also a member of the Hillsborough County Extension Overall Advisory Council for 25 years, where he worked to reinforce the importance of County Extension to members of local government and ensure that their attention stayed focused on agricultural issues.
To further promote local agricultural interests, Morris has worked with many farm organizations, including the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Association of Conservation District Supervisors, and community groups such as state and local chambers of commerce. Morris was one of the originators and was a driving force in the creation of the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, an organization in which he served for 14 years in various roles, including president, treasurer, and historian. He has been on the Hall of Fame’s board of directors since that organization’s beginning 25 years ago.
Morris was born on September 5, 1926, in Barren County, Ky., and grew up on a dairy, tobacco, and grain farm in south central Kentucky, near Glasgow, where he learned to harvest and milk by hand and to grow crops by cultivating with a hoe or by walking behind a mule. Childhood lessons of learning to “make the best better” came from his parents’ examples and from membership in the local 4-H club, where he was an active member. He also learned that while “old ways” should be quickly replaced when “new ways” can make the product and the farmer’s life better, he also learned that innovations aren’t always better just because they are new.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Kentucky, he held a series of important agricultural positions, including Assistant County Agent for the Florida Agricultural Extension Service and Coordinator of Soil and Water for the Florida Department of Agriculture, where he directed and secured funding for more than 50 soil and water districts throughout the state.
While growing up, Morris developed an interest in finance from an uncle, who was a local banker, and that influence would eventually point Morris’ career toward banking. For 30 years, he worked in positions that included serving as vice president of commercial loans for several major Florida Banks while at other times acting as a self-employed financial consultant to a variety of agricultural clients, such as a family-run sugarcane operation and a group of Florida strawberry growers.
His lifelong contributions to Florida agriculture have seen him in service to organizations such as the Hillsborough County Cattlemen’s Association, the Florida Association of Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors, and the Florida Chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.
Morris’ many awards include Who’s Who in Agricultural Banking, 1966; Florida Governor’s Award in Soil Conservation, 1967; Agriculturist of the Year, Florida Association of County Extension Agents, 1997; Hillsborough County Harvest Award in Agricultural Finance, 1993; and President’s Award, Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, 1980.
Morris and his wife live in Tampa. They have three children.