Willie F. Cooper recently retired after more than 56 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Three hundred of his Louisiana friends – more if the rain doesn’t freeze — are prepared to honor Willie Feb. 11, in Alexandria, La.
At retirement, people often reflect on their careers. Willie has a lot on which to reflect. He started in August 1957 with the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Back then it was called the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.
In a recent conversation, Willie spoke about the thing that amazed him the most during employment with FSA – technology. Some changes affected everyone, but the technology that stood out the most for Willie Cooper was what affected farming. “It blows your mind,” he said.
You can understand why. Willie’s first job with the agency was measuring cotton fields with chains. Today’s fields can be measured precisely and instantly from satellites. (The U.S. launched its first satellite in 1958, a year after Willie started with the agency.)
In 1972, Willie began a one-of-a-kind run when he was appointed FSA Louisiana State Executive Director. He served in that capacity for 42 years. He served under eight presidents and 13 Secretaries of Agriculture, including: Butz, Knebel, Bergland, Block, Lyng, Yeutter, Madigan, Espy, Glickman, Veneman, Johanns, Schafer and Vilsack.
Willie’s accomplishments have been many. He credits the people he led during his 56 years, not himself. He said his ambition always was to do a good job with whatever program Congress gave him. Sometimes those programs meant challenging, physical labor, like in 1983 when he was assigned to supervise off-loading of sugar from ocean-going ships to river barges. He was told to verify that none of the sugar slipped back into the market.
What will Willie be doing? Enjoying five grandchildren, he said, watching their archery contests and basketball games. He’ll be caretaking 252 acres of ground that he and his sons own. He said he’s the official “bush-hogger.” And Willie will be talking. His knowledge of agriculture in Louisiana is still valued. People want his opinion. Likely, he’ll share it. Modestly. Humbly. Humorously. But authoritatively.
Willie said he’s gotten more publicity about his career than he deserves. Others disagree, especially those that have awarded him with dozens of honors, including Progressive Farmers Man of the Year and Louisiana Farm Bureau’s Distinguished Service Award.
Willie Cooper has retired, but he hasn’t stopped doing good things. His church is happy that he chairs the long-range planning committee. The Lions Club is happy that he continues to help crippled children, awarding him with the Melvin Jones Plaque for years of service. So Willie’s not done. He’s just moving on. And he’s saying good-bye to his friends at FSA after more than 56 magnificent years.
So, good-bye, Willie. Enjoy. It won’t be the same without you.