George W. Stone, longtime Oklahoma Farmers Union president and state agriculture leader, died May 26 in Purcell. He was 101 years old.
Stone leaves behind a legacy of family farm leadership that will be difficult to match. His long and storied career helped shape American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) and Oklahoma agriculture through much of the last half of the 20th century.
Stone’s AFR/OFU career spanned more than 64 years, a tenure that ultimately included leadership roles at the county, state and national level. He is the longest serving OFU president to date, guiding the organization from 1956 to 1980. He later served as National Farmers Union president from 1980 to 1984 and later as a dedicated OFU board member.
Stone left his first career as a Baptist minister in 1952 when a throat condition made it increasingly difficult to preach. That same year, he became a full-time servant of the OFU membership. He had already begun to gain prominence in the organization, first as secretary of his county Farmers Union for a time, then as chaplain for the entire state. Following time spent in various organization roles, he was elected to his first term as OFU president in 1956.
Stone commanded respect with his tall frame, strong oratory abilities and unwavering convictions. He guided OFU through unprecedented expansion during his presidency, doubling OFU’s membership count and overseeing the construction of two new, larger OFU headquarter buildings. He also relaunched the insurance company and grew it into a viable entity with more lines of coverage. He is credited with shifting OFU’s trajectory from a fraternal brotherhood to a professional business organization.
Stone’s upbringing on his family’s diversified farm near Byars, Okla., never left him. His early years working on the farm led to an extreme work ethic few could match. In fact, his drive is still frequently mentioned at AFR/OFU headquarters some 50 years later.
His upbringing also led to a passion for family farming. During his presidencies, the importance of preserving the family farm and the opportunities and challenges that come with it was ever present. His legislative efforts always came back to reducing corporate involvement in farming and the continuation of the family farm system of agriculture.
Stone’s strong oratory abilities and passion for agriculture made him a formidable figure and, when he communicated, lawmakers listened. He successfully lobbied at the state and national capitols and testified before various Senate and House Agriculture Committees for beneficial farm programs and equal treatment for farm families. He worked with more than half of Oklahoma’s governors and traveled the world on behalf of agriculture, meeting with national and international leaders including every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush.
Through National Farmers Union’s membership in IFAP (International Federation Agriculture Producers), Stone traveled to 65 countries to represent American agriculture. He even traveled behind the Iron Curtain to meet with insurance companies throughout Europe, including the former Soviet Union.
Stone retired from full-time service to Farmers Union in 1984 and felt the familiar pull of the family farm once again. He and his wife purchased a working farm near Stratford, Okla., just a few miles from where he grew up and settled in to raised cattle, sheep, Bermuda sprigs, hay and peaches.
While continuing to farm, Stone remained involved in OFU. He served on the organization’s board of directors for a total of 12 years, guiding the organization he had such a strong hand in shaping. He also continued to craft organization policy at state and national Farmers Union conventions and fight for the family farm at legislative fly-ins to Washington, D.C.
Stone received many accolades over the years, including Oklahoma State University’s “Diploma of Distinction” in 1980 and Oklahoma Baptist University’s “Outstanding Alumni Achievement in Agriculture, Business and Public Service” in 1981. He received AFR/OFU’s highest and rarest honor, the OFU Meritorious Service Award, and reached the pinnacle of Oklahoma’s agricultural industry when he was inducted into the Oklahoma Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2000.
Stone fully retired from OFU leadership in 2010 when he completed his last term on the board of directors. In February 2020, he attended his last AFR/OFU event—the 115th AFR/OFU State Convention. He gave the invocation at the organization’s annual banquet as the interim chaplain, the role that started his career with Farmers Union. He had come full circle at an event that was just 15 years his senior.
The Stone family’s involvement in Farmers Union reaches beyond the George Stone years. His grandfather became a member in the early 1900s, his father was an OFU insurance agent, and until recently the sixth consecutive generation of the Stone family held AFR/OFU memberships.