By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - George Hamner Sr. will always be remembered as a man who went the extra mile to protect the name and brand of a product that makes Indian River County internationally famous: citrus.
Mr. Hamner, 88, was a World War II veteran, proud Indian River County resident and citrus businessman. He was known for his determination and desire to protect and preserve Indian River citrus and make it the best citrus in the world, said Doug Bournique, vice president of the Indian River Citrus League.
Mr. Hamner died on Sept. 27.
"He worked to create a better citrus industry. George was one of the cornerstones of what this area is all about," Mr. Bournique said.
Though he has many fond memories of Mr. Hamner, one special one is from the mid-1980s. The Miss USA organization wanted to film a segment with the participants in a citrus grove and Mr. Hamner convinced the producers to feature the Indian River citrus groves, not just use them as a backdrop.
"In his best public relations effort, he dared the film crew to keep on filming. He used reverse psychology on them and they ended up staying two hours in the grove and got over two minutes of airtime," Mr. Bournique said with a laugh.
The cost of the national and international attention was priceless to the industry, he said.
"It was the first national and global recognition we ever had," said Mr. Bournique.
International success is evident in today's citrus shipping statistics. Japan is the largest consumer of Indian River Citrus, receiving more than 320,000,000 pounds of fruit a year.
Mr. Hamner was also a big supporter of Hanley Hall Gate Lodge, a drug and alcohol treatment center, in Vero Beach.
"Besides being in the citrus business together, one of my best friends and the best ever grandfather/great-grandfather, my father's legacy is really one of helping numerous cope with despair, conquer their addiction and buff up their spirit allowing them to live better lives," said George Hamner Jr. in an email interview.
His circle of friends will certainly miss his presence and his passion.
"I think we lost a national treasure," said Ben Bailey, a close friend of the family.
"He was a force, a successful force in just everything he did, his family, his career and his philanthropy," he said.
His dedication and perseverance in the citrus industry helped shape the current Indian River Citrus League and put it on a path to success, he said.
"We're reaping the benefits of what he and others did early on," Mr. Bailey said.
Mr. Hamner Sr. is survived by his wife, Ann Graves Hamner, brother Nicholas Hamner of Kalamazoo, son George Hamner Jr. and his wife Toni of Vero Beach, daughter Nancy Hamner Gordon and her husband Bill Gordon of Charlottesville, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were handled by Cox-Gifford Seawinds Funeral and Crematory and a service was held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Vero Beach.
Send memorial donations to Trinity Episcopal Church, 2365 Oine Avenue, Vero Beach, or VNA Hospice, 1110 35th Lane, Vero Beach.