Longtime Georgia beer industry executive Mr. Henri Leon Farmer Jr. died Monday, Dec. 8. He was 77. Funeral services were held last Friday.
Mr. Farmer, who is described as an industry “legend” by many, spent 55 years in the beer industry and served as former president and chairman of the board at Leon Farmer & Co. as the Anheuser-Busch wholesaler in Athens and Gainesville. According to Babs Paine, who was hired by Farmer 29 years ago, “Leon was a wonderful man full of great stories and business savvy that transformed our company. He will be missed and never forgotten by family, friends and employees.”
According to an obituary that appears on the Athens Banner-Herald’s website, Mr. Farmer was the only child of the late Henri Leon “Sarge” Farmer and Eloise Harmon Farmer.
Born in Athens at St. Mary’s Hospital on May 23, 1937, Farmer excelled in athletics at Barrow School and Athens High School where he was city marble shooting champion, captain of the School Boy Patrol, Arrow of Light Award recipient and later varsity letterman for the Athens High Trojans football team and an instructor at Miss Flossie’s 9th grade dance class.
An honorary life member of the Athens YMCA board of directors, Mr. Farmer dedicated many decades to enjoying and supporting YMCA programs and Y Camp at Tallulah Falls. His time at the Athens YMCA under legendary Cobern Kelley started with Pine Tops Y Camp in 1946 and went on to Mr. Farmer serving as the captain and starting guard for the undefeated Scorpions football team, starting center for the state championship basketball team and Georgia All-State YMCA basketball team as well as the Athens Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 1948. He enjoyed a 60-mile canoe trip under “Pop” Pearson at Y Camp that traversed Lake Rabun, Lake Seed and Lake Burton (portaged Seed and Burton dams). A war canoe trip from Hall’s Boat House to Rabun Beach with 9-year-old campers under the leadership of Coach Mike Castronis in 1951 was a highlight.
Mr. Farmer graduated from Darlington School in Rome in 1955 after participation in boxing club and as senior hall proctor and as varsity letterman as All Mid-South guard for two years for the Darlington Tigers football team.
At age 20, he began his service in the U.S. Marine Corps as High Shot in Platoon 3 at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, where he broke the record with a perfect score on the combat range and scored a record 98.28 after his individual combat training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina and during Message Center School at Camp Lejuene in H&S Company 2nd Marines. He was promoted to private first class by Company Commander 1st Lt. Douglas T. Jacobson (Jacobson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism on Iwo Jima). Mr. Farmer served aboard USS Taconic and USS Monrovia. He served as an advisor to the Turkish Army on NATO maneuvers in Dikili, Turkey, in 1958 and then as a corporal during the Lebanon landing in July 1958. His military career garnered an Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal and honorable discharge.
After the military, he obtained a degree in accounting and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Georgia. He served as president of his third-year law school class and as a brother in both the Chi Phi fraternity and Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity. He was a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society, boxing club and trick rifle drill team.
After practicing law from 1966-71, Mr. Farmer was active in politics as a committee member of the Georgia House of Representatives, 1967-71 on the Special Judiciary, Welfare and University Systems where he was chair of sub-committee for long range university planning. He served as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 and on state and local democratic committees as well as on the State Manpower Planning Council and Georgia Status of Women Commission. He left the democratic party and became a political independent in 1984.
During his time in the beer industry he was a member of the Anheuser-Busch Wholesaler Advisory Panel from 1974-79, chairman in 1976 and 1977, past chairman in 1978 and a board member of the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association from 1979-83. He was local action coordinator in 1980-83 for the Anheuser-Busch Governmental Affairs for the state of Georgia and served on a committee to give input to the dean of the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, on the issue of trans-shipping, which resulted in exclusive territories and provisions in the A-B Wholesaler Equity Agreement 1982-83. He was a Charter Ambassador for Athens 1982-94 receiving Dimensions of Excellence Silver Eagle Award in 1979 and 1980 and Gold Eagle Award in 1981.
Mr. Farmer was active in civic and community affairs throughout his life, serving as charter member of the Heritage Club of the Northeast Georgia Council of the Boy Scouts of America and serving as an ordained elder and member of the board of trustees at Central Presbyterian Church in Athens where he also served as past chair of long-range planning committee, head usher and honorary deacon for contributions to Central’s life and work in 2013. He was inducted into the Athens Athletic Hall of Fame as a boxer in 2014 and in 2010 received the “Fosky” Henderson Community Service Award.
He was a giving man and established numerous endowment funds, including the Leon and Victoria Farmer International Agriculture Scholarship Fund and the Endowment for Cardio Rehab exercise equipment in 2006 at Athens Regional Medical Center. He established the initial endowment for a new Athens Technical College building to house its culinary, hospitality and tourism program in 2008.
His love for the University of Georgia was unparalleled. An inaugural inductee of the Circle of Distinction in 2002 and inaugural SunTrust Bank’s Top Dawg Award in 2007, honors for individuals who have extended extraordinary support to Georgia Athletics through the years, he and his wife Victoria endowed more than 15 scholarships for male and female student athletes in a variety of sports. The Board of Regents in 2004 honored the Farmers by naming the trellised entryway porch of the Rankin Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center the “Victoria and Leon Farmer Academic Plaza.” The Farmers have been members of the University of Georgia President’s Club since 1990 and the 1785 Society in 2005 and a charter member of the UGA Athletic Association’s Silver Circle in 2003.
Mr. Farmer is survived by his wife Victoria Pruitt Farmer, son and daughter-in-law Leon Farmer III and Rebecca of Athens, daughter and son-in-law Joni and Corey Ingram of Hull, daughter Terri Leigh Farmer of Athens as well as six grandchildren, Therese Farmer, Philip Frobos, David Frobos, Susan Frobos, Beau Farmer and Brooke Farmer. He also is survived by his brother and sister-in-law Alice and Hal Pruitt, sister and brother-in-law Kelley and Mike Blanton, niece Patricia Pruitt and nephew William Pruitt and numerous cousins. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Lisa Rene Farmer.