I’ll never forget meeting Henry Morris in 2012, MEAT+POULTRY’s first Operations Executive of the Year recipient. We met at Smithfield Foods’ 12th floor office with a million-dollar view of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. The night before my morning flight to Chicago, I visited with my mother and she was unusually interested to hear about the man I was going to interview. She smiled and listened carefully. I told her how opportunities to meet some of the world’s most interesting and successful people has always been one of the best perks of my job. These were opportunities I would have never known if she and my dad hadn’t encouraged and supported my pursuit of a college degree and a career as a newspaper reporter and later, a magazine editor. During that next day’s trip, I couldn’t help but think how the words and actions of most people’s parents profoundly influence their children’s professional lives and how they develop into friends, spouses, parents and contributors to society. It was one of the first topics I brought up with Henry Morris in discussing his career path. His eyes twinkled as he told me his dad “believed in hard work and accountability.” Morris spoke fondly of his father, who worked in a zinc and copper refinery for much of his adult life. “He was driven,” he said.

Joel Crews

After interviewing Morris and on the way home from the airport that March day, I got a call that my otherwise healthy mother had passed away in her sleep while I was sleeping in Chicago. While shocked, I found peace that I was where she wanted me to be, doing worthwhile work in a career she encouraged me to pursue and would never let me give up on.

There typically is an interesting and telling parental influence behind these stories. In 2017, Tyson’s Chris Rupp said he learned that hard work alone isn’t always enough. His career path was influenced by watching his father spend his career doing back-breaking work on a farm he didn’t own. Unfortunately, he said, “I watched my dad retire with nothing. I knew that wasn’t for me.”

In 2016, Dietz & Watson’s John Schoenfellinger shared how his meat industry experience started before kindergarten, when he tagged along with his dad, a maintenance worker, at several meat companies in Philadelphia. “Dad kept me at his side when he was taking things apart,” he said. Schoenfellinger is still working in the industry almost three decades later.

This year’s recipient shared stories of how his mother, a lifelong teacher who believed a college degree was required of her three children, was a prominent influence at key points in his life. Robert Garlington shared that when he returned home in between semesters early in his college career, he revealed to his parents that he had made the decision to not go back to school and to sit out a semester or maybe more. His whimsical theory barely got out of his mouth before his mother told him that wasn’t an option and, in fact, his car was already packed, running and pointed in the direction of Stephen F. Austin (SFA) State Univ. He dutifully climbed in the car and returned to school, ultimately earning a degree in education just like both of his parents and two sisters. After graduating from SFA, Garlington again announced his plans to take a break and take some time to regroup before making his next move. His mother nipped that notion in the bud by applying for a job on his behalf before his move back home. Two days after graduating, Garlington’s career in the poultry industry began in Lufkin, Texas, thanks to the intuition of someone who may have known him better than he knew himself. Each year before publishing the story honoring M+P’s Operations Executive of the Year, I pause to remember how symbolic and profound that first interview was for me and make it a point to honor the parents and influencers behind the industry’s icons and legends.