Title: 2009 Woman Of The Year In Agriculture: Marcia Lightsey
Type: Woman of the Year in Agriculture Award
“I’ve never even in my, my furthest dreams could imagine somebody jumping in here and learning every aspect of our business from the bottom up and still be active in their community, active in the church, active in all our family’s activities and their lives. It’s just really hard for me to describe the abilities that she has. It’s just remarkable.”
From working the cattle on the ranch to educating the public on the importance of Florida agriculture, Marcia Lightsey knows the cattle business.
She has criss-crossed the state and the nation, tirelessly promoting the beef industry, while at the same time handling the paperwork at the family-owned business.
Though keeping the books for the Lightsey Cattle Company of Lake Wales, Florida is her primary job, Marcia is more than just a bookkeeper.
Lori Lightsey Chandley:
“It’s kind of like a secret around here that my mom’s Lightsey Cattle Company. She’s the one that kind of keeps everything going. Of course my dad and my uncle are out there as Lightsey Brothers, but my mom is the one who keeps all the books and kind of keeps everything organized.”
Behind the scenes, the paperwork, the taxes and everything that she handles is a large part of the operation that most people don’t see, even people in the company don’t see; they know she has it so they know it’s going to get done.
Leigh Ann Wynn:
“She’s one of the most hardworking women you will ever meet. It doesn’t matter what time of day that you call her. It’s 5:00 a.m., she’s getting ready for the cow hunt. If you call her at 9:30, she’s in the cow pens working hard with the cowboys. And then if you call her at noon, she’s serving the lunch to the cowboys. Call her in the afternoon; she’s back in the cow pens, again. And if you call her at 10 o’clock at night, she’s preparing for the next day.”
“She has a hat for every part of our business. From running the cattle barge, to working cattle, marking, branding, giving shots, parting cattle, and working with the citrus, she can do it all.”
The ranch life comes so naturally to Marcia, it’s hard to believe she wasn’t raised in agriculture. The daughter of Ralph and Hattie Hubbard, she was born in 1954 in San Antonio, Texas.
The Air Force family was stationed at bases across the Southeast and always lived off base in the country so the three children could have pets.
In 1962 the Hubbard’s settled in Brandon, Florida, where Marcia would get her real introduction to agriculture.
She met sixth-generation Floridian Cary Lightsey in high school and started helping him at his family’s dairy and on their ranch.
Marcia soon fell in love with Cary and the ranching lifestyle, and in 1973 they married and immediately moved to one of the Lightsey’s ranches east of Lake Wales.
Early on, Marcia realized that cattle ranching was not just riding horses and penning cattle. It’s a complex business with highly detailed records and a financial side that requires expertise in accounting.
Fortunately, Marcia found a mentor who would share not only her knowledge of ranching, but also her work ethic.
“One of the most influential people in my life with getting into the cattle business, not knowing that much about it, was my mother-in-law, Marnel. Not only did she teach me all the bookwork and that part of it, she would work circles around me just making sure that everything was in its proper place and the cattle were handled correctly and everything was done. Everybody looked up to her. And she was just a remarkable woman.”
Today, Marcia shares that same relationship with her daughter-in-law, Jessica, providing the role model of a hard working, dedicated cattlewoman.
Marcia’s duties frequently take her away from the ranch. On a typical day she can be found running errands in nearby Lake Wales which include trips to the feed store, the post office, the bank, and the hardware store.
Lori Lightsey Chandley:
“There’s so many things that she gets done, whether it’s daily, weekly, or through the year. But she also touches so many people’s lives. She’s the first one to bring a meal or send flowers or send someone a note. She’s always sending ‘thank-yous’ and thinking of other people.”
On her way back to the ranch Marcia takes time to check up on her mare about to foal, making sure she has everything she needs.
Marcia oversees several other operations owned by the family, including Camp Tiger, a fish camp and R/V park located on Tiger Lake.
In the mid 1970s when the Lightsey Cattle Company began diversifying, Marcia helped layout the irrigation lines as well as plant and prune the grove’s orange and grapefruit trees. And today, when word of a freeze threatens the citrus groves, Marcia is there to monitor the crop.
About the same time the groves were planted, the Lightseys started wild boar hunts on the ranch. Along with all her other activities, Marcia took on the task of booking, scheduling and cooking for the hunts.
“Marcia and I work as a team, and I don’t care what I do with our business, she jumps right in there and helps me with it. And she learns it fast, and she’s a big part of it. I can’t do anything without looking for Marcia. I just feel like I need her approval, because she’s such a intelligent lady and she gives me a outlook that I just can’t get from anybody else.”
Allowing people to experience a real Florida cattle ranch and all of its facets, from livestock to wildlife, has been important to Marcia and Cary.
By opening up their Brahma Island Ranch to guided eco-tours, they show visitors how cattle ranching and wildlife preservation can work together.
In fact, not only does the 3,300-acre island support 300 head of cattle, but it is home to 28 endangered species and 14 eagle nests.
It’s very well known by environmental groups throughout the state.
Stewardship of the land has always been a priority for the Lightseys, and through conversation easements, their land is a permanent corridor for wildlife.
Their personal philosophy of leaving 40 percent of their land native has led to projects with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, with whom Marcia is often the ranch’s contact.
Getting the message out on the importance of Florida agriculture is a priority for Marcia, and she has been a long-time volunteer promoting it.
From reading to school kids on Ag Literacy Day to supporting Polk County’s Junior Cattlemen’s club, Marcia works tirelessly teaching the next generation about Florida agriculture and encouraging their involvement.
For the Lightseys keeping old traditions alive is also important, as demonstrated by their long-time commitment to the Polk County Youth Fair. Since the 1990s, Marcia and Cary have put on the “whip-popping contest” and donate the trophies and prize money as well.
As her children were growing up, Marcia’s volunteer work was centered around their activities. When the kids joined the Lazy A’s 4-H Club of Lake Wales, Marcia served as the project leader, a position she held for 14 years.
“Then as the kids got a little older, we went down to the local FFA department and put on grooming clinics and hoof trimming and anything that we could do to get, you know, the kids’ animals ready for the shows.”
After her children graduated from high school, Marcia started volunteering for causes close to her heart: promoting the beef industry and agriculture education.
She started with the Polk County Cattlewomen in 1993 and has served in all of the organization’s officer positions. She’s been treasurer for many years, a post they won’t let her leave.
She became involved with the Florida Cattlewomen in the early 1990s and has chaired the fundraising committee, been a member of the executive board, and served as president.
As promotions chairman for the organization she traveled extensively around the state with other Cattlewomen doing in-store demonstrations. Their efforts resulted in record-breaking beef sales.
In 2004, the president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association asked her to co-chair his public relations committee. There, she helped create a calendar featuring photographs of Florida cattle ranches, stressing the importance of preserving Florida’s working ranchlands.
In 2008, Marcia became the Region II director for the American National Cattle Women, overseeing beef promotion and education for seven southeastern states.
As busy as she is, Marcia always enjoys coming home. And when she’s not spending time with her grandkids, she has things to do that help her relax.
Lori Lightsey Chandley:
“She also has a creative side and a very artistic side. She loves to paint and draw. She’s got murals throughout our house she’s painted.”
While painting is the perfect outlet for Marcia’s personal expression, gardening is the ideal time for personal reflection.
With an idyllic view of the lake, Marcia quietly gets to enjoy what she so vigorously promotes: being outdoors and breathing fresh air, growing nourishing food in a healthy environment, then collecting the vegetables that she’ll feed her family.
Lori Lightsey Chandley:
“One thing that’s really important to my mom and the rest of our family is just being with our family. I talk to my mom at least once a day. She’s very involved with the grandkids and what they’re doing. She goes and sees them at school all the time. That’s something important to her and that she’s passed on to us.”
“But to get to where we’re at today, I can honestly say that we could have never done it without Marcia, Marcia’s ability and her hard work and her dedication and her support. The old saying ‘behind every successful man, there’s a good woman,’ well, Marcia makes up for about five of them, because she’s never had doubt in me, and I always loved her for it. Whatever I wanted to pursue, she was behind me and she was right in there fighting with me, and that means a lot to me.”
“I think the best part of living on a ranch and being in agriculture is just being close to nature. To me, this lifestyle, it’s clean, it’s healthy, it’s safe. It has a very secure feeling to it. You know, you have your freezes come through and you worry about your groves and your citrus and the cattle. And the feed, if you’re going to get a frost on your grass, and things like that. But, you know, that’s just part of it. You get through those hard times, and the spring comes around and the summer comes around and those grasses grow back and things like that and everything is back good again.”