Shelby man served U.S. agricultural interests

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By Ron Van Stockum

A few weeks after the publication of last year's column about Clarence Miller, I visited him again in Shelbyville.


With considerable pleasure, he showed me a framed copy of my column that had been entered into the Congressional Record by Sen. Mitch McConnell, who had sent it to him personally with a warm note of appreciation.

During the course of our conversation, Clarence described some of his experiences while in government service.

In 1959 and 1960, the final two years of the Eisenhower Administration, he served as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Foreign Agriculture, working directly under Secretary Ezra Taft Benson.

From 1970 to 1976 he served as Agricultural Attaché in Spain, initially under his good friend, Ambassador Robert C. Hill.  At that time there were 36 such agricultural posts at U.S. Embassies, each working under the coordination of the ambassador but reporting to the Secretary of Agriculture.

Clarence describes his two general responsibilities in this position as:

* Encouraging the purchase of U.S. agricultural commodities.

* Reporting upon the agricultural production of the Spain.  Such reporting, when combined with that from all other Agricultural Attachés, provided the basis for U. S. estimates of world-wide agricultural production.

In Spain, an effort was made to promote the exports of U.S. agriculture firms, including poultry equipment, such as incubators, in an effort to increase demand for our small grain surplus.

The export of U.S breeding cattle was also a priority.  There was considerable interest in local production of citrus because of competition with U.S. producers.

In discharging his responsibilities, Clarence, being of an inquiring nature, traveled extensively throughout Spain, visiting farms and rural communities.  He was frequently accompanied by his wife, Toddy, a champion golfer and daughter of Clarence G. Barrickman, a prominent Shelbyville lawyer and former County Attorney.

On one such trip, in 1973, he said he visited the agricultural areas of Castile and Leon, near Segovia, a historic city about 50 miles north of Madrid.

He said he noticed a peasant following a plow pulled by two scrawny cows, so he stopped to chat.  Clarence had never mastered Spanish, but he found that he could readily communicate in what he calls "Spanglish" with any Spaniard, "whether it be Prince Juan Carlos, the future King of Spain, or a simple tiller of the soil."

This peasant was very proud of his two cows, stating that they were milked as well.  A poverty-stricken representative of the lowest class of Spain, he was working the soil of a hardscrabble farm that he did not own.

This man, however, express great pride in having fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

This peasant was delighted when Clarence asked permission to take his photograph, and, with hand on plow and staff on shoulder, he proudly posed.

Not having a mailing address, he requested that a print be sent to him by way of the local alcalde (mayor).  This, Clarence did upon his return to Madrid, under cover of a letter on official embassy stationery.

In response, Clarence received a touching letter in Spanish from the Alcalde, generally as follows:

"My esteemed sir:

I am writing you at the request of [name not recalled], who asked that I reply in his behalf, as he neither reads nor writes.  He wants you to know that this is the first photo that he has ever had taken.  He also wants you to know that he is an ordinary peasant, not recognized in his village.  But now that he has the photo that you sent, and more importantly the letter from the great United States of America recognizing him, he is now an important person in the village and he will forever cherish this recognition."

I share Clarence Miller's hope and belief that those who till the soil in Spain today still hold our country in such high esteem.