Funeral services for John Thomas Dillard, 91, of Greenville, a farmer and agribusiness leader of Greenville, will be at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, December 1 at First Baptist Church Chapel, Greenville. He died Friday, November 30 at Delta Regional Medical Center. Burial will be in the Greenville Cemetery under the direction of Boone Funeral Home, Greenville.
John Thomas Dillard was born to the late Roy Barnley & Susan Ara (Poole) Dillard on May 2, 1927 in Osceola, AR. He attended Osceola Public Schools and attended the University of Oklahoma in Norman where he studied engineering and was enrolled in the officers’ training program.
After completion of his studies and training he returned to Osceola and married Lucille Johnson Dillard on January 18, 1947. He was engaged in farming in Helena, Arkansas and Lake Providence, Louisiana prior to moving to Leland, Mississippi in the fall of 1956.
His Mississippi farming career began at McGrath, MS on Greenland Plantation, where his family row crop operation continues today.
In 1969, John Dillard built his first catfish ponds along with his catfish farming partners, J.W. and Julian Potter on Wilmont Road. John was instrumental in the catfish industry’s early growth and development. Mr. Dillard served on the Board and as a member of the Executive Committee of Catfish Farmers of America, as well as President of Catfish Farmers of Mississippi. He was a founding member of Producers Feed Company, Delta Western Feed Mill, Delta Pride, and Country Select Catfish of Isola.
He was also a founder and served as president of The Catfish Bargaining Association and its predecessor, The Mississippi Catfish Farmers Marketing Association. In 1986, John Dillard helped organize The Catfish Institute.
Dillard also served on the USDA’s National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board. The Board advised the Secretary of Agriculture and land grant colleges and universities on policy.
At the 1987 annual convention of the Catfish Farmers of America, he was recognized as the Catfish Farmer of the Year. In 1996 he received the Distinguished Service Award from Catfish Farmers of Mississippi and in 2009 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Catfish Farmers of America. He truly loved the catfish industry and worked tirelessly on behalf of the industry.
John Dillard was one of the original founding shareholders of Farmer’s Grain Terminal (FGT). Mr. Dillard served on the FGT board from 1977 – 1998, at which time he was named Director Emeritus. He served as corporate secretary from 1992 – 1998 and on the executive committee from 1987 – 1998.
Mr. Dillard was an organizer of the First National Bank of Leland.
Mr. Dillard was also a sportsman. He loved to wing-shoot, especially quail and pheasant. He often fondly relayed stories of quail hunting on the farm in 1960’s as well as his numerous trips to South Dakota to pheasant hunt. He was a founding member of Black Bayou Hunting Club. Mr. Dillard was also a founding member of the regional conservation organization Delta Wildlife.
He was an avid golfer and enjoyed traveling with Lucille to pursue the hobby. They frequently made trips with the Mississippi Seniors golf group.
John Dillard was an active member of Delta Council, having served as its President in 1987. While serving as Delta Council President he traveled to Washington, D.C. and testified before the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies about the need for Federal funding of agricultural research. He also served as past Chairman of the both the Aquaculture Committee and the Executive Committee.
He was respected by those he worked with and loved by his family.
Dillard is preceded in death by his brothers, James Roy Dillard of Lake Providence, LA and William L. Dillard of Louise, MS.
Dillard is survived by his wife of 71 years, Lucille Johnson Dillard, daughter Carolyn Dillard Gerity (Bill) of Delaware, Ohio and three grandchildren, Paul Dillard Dees of Greenville (Marney), Molly Dees Finney (Vince) and Emily Dees Plessinger (Justin) of Lewis Center, OH. He also leaves behind his seven great-grandchildren Morgan Dees, Madeline Dillard Dees, Blake Finney, Jackson Finney, Logan Plessinger, Jacob Plessinger, and Maggie Dillard Plessinger.
He is also survived by his sister in law, Edith Dillard of Madison, MS as well as several nieces and a nephew.
Pallbearers for the service will be Paul D. Dees, Vince Finney, Bill Gerity, Keith C. King, Conrad Longfellow, and Justin Plessinger.
There will be a visitation from 1:00-2:00 p.m., Saturday in the Forbus Center of First Baptist Church. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be given to First Baptist Church of Greenville, MS or First Baptist Church of Leland, MS.