FLORENCE, S.C. – As Thursday morning’s retirement ceremony for Clemson Extension Agent Tony Melton – only the first of such ceremonies planned – there were no fewer than eight different group photos taken with him at the center of the group.
Then the selfies started.
Everyone wanted to be in a shot with him.
That said everything to say about how the agriculture community felt about him but didn’t even scratch the surface about the impact he has had on farming in the Pee Dee, if not the state as a whole.
“I am the most blessed person on the face of this earth, thank you, Lord,” Melton said as he closed out his own retirement ceremony with a few words.
Not that words, many of them, hadn’t already preceded Melton’s.
“We’re just so glad he’s been here and he’s going to have a long-lasting legacy, longer than this tree, I hope, and this brass sign,” said Dr. Matt Smith, professor and director of the Center. “Because of his work on vegetables, other people noticed the Pee Dee should be doing some work on vegetables. We’re now in the process of hiring two brand-new faculty positions, one in vegetable breeding and one in vegetable pathology, to be located here at the Pee Dee REC. That is all entirely due to Tony’s efforts.”
Smith also touched on the warm-weather variety of butter bean that Melton has been working to develop that is now in its final stages of development.
“I’m grateful to have him around. I’m proud to have you and consider you a friend,” said Smith, a contemporary of Melton’s.
The ceremony started unofficially at 9:15 a.m. when Clemson grounds crew members gathered with Brandon Granger and Tommy Taylor – two Florence landscapers who have worked years with Melton – to plant a serviceberry tree, one that will bear fruit and show bright colors in the fall.
With the skilled labor on site, and with the help of many of Melton’s friends who turned out a bit early for the 10 a.m. ceremony, the tree was planted, straightened, planted again, mulched and pruned to the point where it stood straight and proud for the ceremony to come.
“I want to thank y’all for coming out today. You mean a lot to dad. Agriculture has been his life for many, many years,” said Ty Melton, Tony Melton’s son, as he stood beside his sister Tyra. “Right now he is having some good days and some bad days. Yesterday I talked to him again, He said mornings are rough and afternoons are good.”
“I will tell you a story, he’s been laying around for months. He hasn’t gotten off the couch much, out of bed much,” Ty Melton said.
“So I called him on afternoon and I said, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Well,’ he was kinda holding back. I said, something strange here. He said, ‘I had a good afternoon.’ I said, ‘what did you do?’
He said, ‘Cut my grass.’ I said, ‘After being down for months the first thing you want to do is go out in the yard and work?’ That’s how he is,” Ty Melton said.
“Most of you know him very, very well. He loves to be outside,” Ty Melton said. “He loves this place here. Every time I talk to him he talks about going out to Pee Dee REC.”
Ty Melton’s speech came ahead of his father’s arrival, which was delayed by the morning treatment session.
Upon his arrival, driven by wife Mitzi, Melton was welcomed with a round of applause and ushered to his and Mitzi’s seats of honor.
“I came to Florence one morning and I was early. I came off a dairy farm, I got there at 7 a.m. and there were people waiting because that was the day Tony was going to be there and they were waiting to talk to Tony,” said Dr. Tom Dobbins, head of Clemson Extension Service. “You are kinda like Jesus, your word means something.”
“You embody what I think is an extension employee. You put service above self,” Dobbins said. “Tony is one of the first people I know where somebody else gave a scholarship in his honor.”
“It doesn’t matter if Tony is talking to a homeowner who has one little rose bush, Tony Melton makes them feel just as important as if he’s talking with Kemp McLeod who is on a multi-million dollar farming operation,” Dobbins said. “His ability to take care of people, his appreciate thieving he has been give, his ability to have a deisre to make the place better is evident in what Tony Melton does.”
Tony Melton joined the extension service in 1989 and retired once, and then returned part time, then came back on full time.
Now, battling non-alcohol liver disease, Melton retired a second time as he undergoes chemotherapy.
The tree and plaque are just the first pieces of what will eventually be a nice little garden to honor him.
“Clemson Cooperative Extension is a better place because of Tony Melton,” Dobbins said.
“Thank you for continuing his legacy of what he likes to do,” Ty Melton said.
“I thank y’all so very much for coming,” Tony Melton said.