I’ll be the first to admit that even after almost 20 years, I’m still starstruck. It was a reality check during the International Production & Processing Expo this past January when my informal breakfast meeting with Temple Grandin was interrupted by one of her fans, who asked if I could take a picture of them together (which of course I did). I was reminded of what an awesome privilege it is to know Temple and what a great gift it is to have her write a column exclusively for MEAT+POULTRY for almost 40 years. I was also reminded of how fortunate the ag community is to have her representing it all over the world, not to mention her advocacy for the autism community. Getting to know Temple is a highlight of my career I’ll never take for granted.

At least once a year, I reach out to her requesting some time to visit, one on one, either during an industry conference, trade show or in Fort Collins, where she has become an icon as a professor of animal health at Colorado State University. She always obliges. Sometimes it’s an early breakfast, other times lunch or dinner and occasionally the visits extend to an entire day. During our visits, I try to talk very little and just listen, soaking in her wisdom. It’s an opportunity to not just discuss animal welfare issues, but to be in the presence of one of the world’s greatest thinkers, teachers, researchers, engineers and most versatile problem solvers. For bucket-list makers, meeting Temple Grandin and following her work should be at the very top.

It’s become clear that her commitment to staying up to date on current events isn’t fuel for making political stances, but instead to apply her visual thinking process to assess societal challenges and to advocate for legitimate change where it’s most needed. She has a sixth sense trained to identify aspects of business, technology, education, research and the environment and how people can affect real and necessary change. For example, bringing industrial arts back into US schools is an example of a change she believes will serve as a solution for the labor shortage so many industries are experiencing by opening doors that have been shut for too long.

Exposing more kids to agriculture is another drum she has been beating for many years and is one of many societal solutions she offers during most of her speeches around the world. Her gift for connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds is uncanny and inspiring. Addressing challenges facing future generations by advising young people on career development and how to realize their potential is another longtime commitment Temple has made. On a personal level, I have seen her work magic with my son, who struggled to decide on a major in college. He recently spent most of a day at CSU discussing his career aspirations with her and listened to her advice about how to map out an education plan that would lead to a career that could maximize his talents. So far, her advice has been spot on and he will remember that day for the rest of his life.

Several years ago, I had the honor of attending Temple’s 70th birthday party held on the CSU campus. I was reminded again that I’m only one of many thousands of lives that have been touched professionally and personally by her, and I’m proud to be in that growing crowd. I’ve had the opportunity to introduce my children and wife to her and we have each benefited from her pearls of wisdom and life-changing guidance. Professionally, I’ve toured processing plants with her, sat in on several of her classes at CSU and have heard dozens of her presentations to audiences ranging from livestock handlers to students at the Kansas City Art Institute to parents of autistic children, and her hopeful message and charisma never disappoint.

As M+P celebrates 65 years of publishing in 2020, we will continue to spotlight the biggest difference makers in the industry and give thanks for relationships with icons like Temple.