William Ray “Bill” Cotton, 92, of Hastings, passed from this life on Monday, Dec. 24, 2018, at Moultrie Creek Nursing and Rehab Center in St. Augustine. Born in Darlington to Thomas and Oma Cotton, he was educated in public schools in Walton and Holmes Counties. Bill was a 1943 honor graduate of Walton High School in DeFuniak Springs. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy Combat Aircrew. He served as a radio-radar operator on a patrol bomber during World War II. After being honorably discharged in 1946, Bill enrolled at the University of Florida. He was inducted into Alpha Gamma Rho and Alpha Zeta fraternities. He graduated in 1949 with a B.S. Degree in Agriculture and was awarded a graduate scholarship in Cooperative Marketing by the Florida Citrus Exchange. He earned a Master of Science in Agriculture degree from the University in 1950.
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After working for a year with the Hastings Potato Growers Association, he was hired in 1952 as Assistant Manager of Wetumpka Fruit Company in Hastings. He was promoted to President and General Manager in 1975, a position he held until 1994. His responsibilities at Wetumpka included: managing potato growing in St. Johns, Putnam, and Flagler Counties; growing corn and rye for seed for an Ocala firm; and managing citrus groves in Marion and St. Johns Counties. After the Christmas freeze of 1983, Wetumpka grew landscape trees in Marion County, in addition to peanuts and hay.
Following his time at Wetumpka, Bill was hired part-time as Executive Director-Secretary of the North Florida Growers Exchange. He then went on to manage grading operations at the St. Augustine Onion Growers Exchange. Selected Frito-Lay growers soon hired him to sample and size their potatoes. In 1995 he began working as a Crop Adjuster for Rain & Hail Insurance Company.
Bill is preceded in death by Mary Ethel Proctor Cotton, his wife of 64 years; his parents; his sisters, Tommie Lee Nolin and Maisie Lewelling; and his son-in-law, Michael Lee Oatts. Bill is survived by his two daughters, Cheryl Cotton Oatts of Birmingham, AL, and Mary Carol Cotton of Montgomeryville, PA; two grandchildren, Kathleen Amanda Oatts of Tuscaloosa, AL, and Matthew Michael Oatts (Sarah) of Richmond, VA; a great-granddaughter, Maggie Louise Oatts; and beloved nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, and great-great nieces and nephews.
In addition to serving as a faithful deacon, he was a devoted and well-prepared teacher of Men’s Sunday School Classes for decades at various churches. Nothing brought him more joy than the sixty years he served in the Music Ministries amongst the following churches: First Baptist Church, Hastings; Lemon Heights Baptist Church, Palatka; Ancient City Baptist and Anastasia Baptist Churches, St. Augustine; and Hammock Community Church, Palm Coast. Bill served on the State Board of Missions and as Second Vice President of the Florida Baptist Convention. He deeply cherished the friendships he made while serving as both member and chairman of the Education Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He, in person, extended the hand of Christian goodwill to churches in Jamaica and Romania.
When it came to farming, Bill was a statesman. During the 1990’s he served on the Florida Vegetable Advisory Committee. In 2001 he was recognized as an Outstanding Agriculturalist by the Florida Association of County Agricultural Agents. In the same year he was elected an Honorary Life Member of The Potato Association of America and was bestowed with an Honorary Lifetime Membership in the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. A board member of the FFBF from 1986-1990, Bill was awarded the 2003 Distinguished Service Award. He was devoted to the Putnam/St. Johns County Farm Bureau organization. His efforts with local potato growers and the St. Johns River Water Management District contributed to improved quality and yield of potatoes, reduction not just of insurance rates but of fertilizer application rates, conservation of water, savings to the growers and a cleaner St. Johns River.
Education was a priority to Bill Cotton. He served as a trustee of Briarwood School during the 1970’s. He served six terms as a member of the District Board of Trustees at St. Johns River Community College (now known as St. Johns River State College). During those six terms the Florida School of the Arts, the Orange Park Campus, and the Fullerwood Center in St. Augustine were opened. He served on the SJRCC Foundation Board of Directors from 2007-2008. While serving on the State Community College Council, he worked to establish the State Board of Community Colleges to achieve parity at the state level with K-12 and the universities.
Bill loved to share stories with family and friends. He always saw the good in everyone and ignored the bad. He expressed gratitude for every act of care offered to him by the employees of both Moultrie Creek Nursing Home and Rehab Center and Community Hospice & Palliative Care, even when he went to visit Mary Ethel when she was a patient at The Bailey Center. Bill's grandchildren fondly remember his passion for the Florida Gators and fishing with their grandfather at the family pond. Oh, how Bill loved Jesus.
Visitation will be held at Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home in Palatka on Friday, January 4, 2019 from 5 to 7 PM. Funeral services will be on Saturday, January 5, 2019 at 2 PM at Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home with burial to follow immediately afterwards at Palatka Memorial Gardens. Doran McCarty, Craig Sherouse, Dee Whitten and Don Burnett will officiate.
Arrangements are entrusted to Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home in Palatka.