Chuck Wilson, who manages the Rice Leadership Development Program and is director of The Rice Foundation, is like a proud father when one of his leadership graduates shines. In fact, he refers to the producers and allied industry members who have graduated the 28-year-old program as his “174 children.”
So it was bittersweet news recently when the 67-year-old Wilson announced he plans to retire from USA Rice on Aug. 1 after 40 years of serving the industry. He will leave behind some huge boots to fill. In his role as leadership program manager, Wilson had to handle a myriad personalities among the different participants. Some have even likened his job to “herding cats.” At the same time, he had to be unflappable and diplomatic.
Charlie Matthews, a Northern California rice producer and chairman of The Rice Foundation, says the program’s success has grown more apparent as many of the industry’s top leaders, such as USA Rice Chairman Brian King and immediate past Chairman Dow Brantley, are alumnae.
“You see how many are still around—that says a lot,” says Matthews, a leadership program graduate. “It’s not just the people who go through the program but the people who stay involved. That just shows what Chuck has taught us, the loyalty and dedication.”
Robert Petter, a Stuttgart, Ark.-area producer and leadership graduate, says Wilson’s passion for the rice industry is what made him successful.
“I know it sounds cliché, but he truly, truly loves the rice industry and enjoys the farmer aspect,” says Petter, also former Arkansas Rice Council chairman. “If he could do nothing else in his life but leadership, that’s what makes Chuck tick—seeing the young farmers grow and develop in the industry and take on rolls that were formerly held by somebody stepping down.”
Linda Raun, an El Campo, Texas, rice grower and leadership graduate, says Wilson was perfect for the job with his relaxed demeanor yet unwavering focus on what he wanted participants to gain from the program.
“He has touched so many lives in this industry, it’s just so amazing,” she says. “He really developed the program into what it has become. You knew his heart and soul were in it, and it’s such a love of his.”
Wilson, who lives in DeWitt, Ark., says the decision to retire was extremely hard. “It was such a great honor and privilege to be able to work for an industry that means as much to our family—there are three generations of rice farmers on our family farm. I’ve been in a position to contribute something to make the industry a little better. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
He joined the USA Rice Council in 1977 as a field representative for Arkansas and Mississippi. Over the years, Wilson has held various positions in what would eventually become USA Rice.
Come Aug. 1, he plans to spend more time with his two young grandchildren in Marion, Ark., and one in Bryan, Ark. Wilson also wants to put some miles on his Harley Davidson motorcycle, and he says his wife, Cheryl, no doubt has a “honey do” list waiting for him.