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Living off the Land

Tuesday, October 28, 1999

Staff Writer
PECOS, Oct. 28, 1999 - Cotton growers from across Texas know and respect Bob Bickley, executive director for the Trans Pecos Cotton Association.

In a tribute to Bickley during the annual meeting of the association at Pecos Valley Country Club Oct. 19, friends and associates warmly praised him for his honesty, integrity and hard work on behalf of the cotton industry.

Bickley came to Pecos to manage Western Cottonoil Co.'s cottonseed processing mill when the valley was being plowed up and planted to cotton in the late `40s, Mike Burkholder told the capacity crowd at the dinner meeting.

Anderson, Clayton & Co., who built the mill and more than 20 cotton gins in the area, sold the mill to Southwest Irrigated Growers in 1968. Passing up the offer of a transfer to Phoenix, Ariz., Bickley stayed to manage the SWIG mill.

Bickley presided over creation of the West Texas Cooperative, which purchased the mill from SWIG. He managed the mill until it sold to Plains Cottonoil Co., and then retired.

"What you have to understand, after that long period of time working as an oil miller, he really believes cotton is planted and produced for seed, and lint is just a by-product," Burkholder said. "That may explain why he does strange things."

His retirement from milling oil was not Bickley's first experience with retirement, Burkholder said.

"Being community minded, he had been in local politics, winning a seat on the Pecos school board. After the Supreme Court ruled that segregation is illegal, he voted to integrate Pecos schools. His constituents retired him from that job," Burkholder said.

Bickley then was persuaded to run for city council, and after a couple of terms was promoted to mayor, Burkholder said.

"He discovered that on certain occasions in the past, names of streets had been re-named for certain mayors. He's not one to go against tradition, so now Highway 17 is Bickley Avenue."

Retirement as mayor was voluntary, Burkholder said. But Bickley didn't stay retired. In 1984, he was prevailed upon to take the office of executive director for the association and has since been appointed to numerous committees and positions in the cotton industry.

Among those positions was president of Texas Cotton Producers, serving on the cotton board, and many others.

"In a car accident, he suffered terrible injuries that broke every bone is his body, and he died twice," Burkholder said. "That would have ended the career of a lesser man."

Bickley still serves as director for Security State Bank and Balmorhea Ranches. He has held numerous offices in the Pecos Chamber of Commerce, which named him outstanding citizen.

"He is a family man, finding time to raise three beautiful daughters," Burkholder said. One of the three, Martee Stuart, was present for the tribute, along with a granddaughter-in-law, Adrianna Lumpkin.

Bickley, who was kept in the dark about the tribute until the meeting started, said, "To say I was surprised is putting it mildly. I was here 34 minutes, and people were already on their second drink. I thought it was a little unusual for just a regular meeting. I appreciate it. Thank you very much."

Association President Larry Turnbough said that the association has purchased the building at 2206 Bickley Ave. where the executive director has his office. It has a barn in back, within a large fenced area with room to park pickups.

The association rents office space to the boll weevil foundation, which Bickley served as director.Turnbough said that some of the growers may have come to the meeting to learn what is taking place in Washington, since "there's been some pretty big votes" in recent weeks.

"They came here looking for information, but I hate to tell you, Billie Sol doesn't live here any more," Turnbough quipped.

Bickley introduced John McGuire of the National Cotton Council, a Washington lobby group. He outlined some of the provisions of the new farm bill passed by Congress and sent to President Clinton.

He said the $8.7 billion emergency assistance package would give short-term assistance to farmers and ranchers for weather-related and other disasters. It will be adminstered by the Farm Service Administration.

"We are pleased to have it in place," McGuire said. "We urged the President to sign it. And are working with USDA to ensure implementation."The bill is no quick fix for the farm economy, which faces a new planting season with large stocks and low market prices, McGuire said.

"We must expand markets and reduce costs," he said. China's trade policies that ignore market conditions are a significant contributor to the current problems, he said.

"The world is suffering and will continue until excessive stocks of cotton in China can be worked down," McGuire said, noting that an avalanche of textile imports is replacing U.S.-manufactured cotton products.

Consumers are buying more cotton products each year, but staggering imports have reduced prices for domestic manufacturers. Mexico is the largest market for exports of raw cotton, he said.

McGuire said that Congress is considering trade preferences legislation."We have not lost sight of the need to develop a long-term farm policy." he said. "We have a full agenda and ambitious goals."

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