Jack Stone always intimidated me. You never met or said hello to Jack Stone. You were subjected to Jack Stone, and this is a better world for it.
Jack, 93, died May 17 after a brief illness. His memorial was fittingly held at Jack Stone’s Barn, an oak tree filled oasis near his home in Lemoore, Calif. Literally thousands of events from weddings to fund raisers to political gatherings have been graciously hosted by Jack and the Stone family in this special sanctuary. There must have been 1,000 people at the barn to say farewell to Jack on a Saturday in May. He was honored publicly for his famous “let’s get going attitude” he backed up with a loud, authoritative voice. He was a powerful, influential leader in California and U.S. agriculture. He never quit championing his lifelong chosen profession of farming that spanned 7 decades.
It was not for the faint of heart to get into a serious discussion with Jack. You had better have both of your guns loaded with some solid facts or he would chew you up and spit you out — and smile and laugh doing it. He did not like a phony. He did not like people who told lies or half truths and would not be convinced otherwise.
He never hid his passion for what was right and fair. He apologized to no one, but there was a side to Jack that transcends all that for me personally and many others personally.
I met Jack at his infamous barn refuge not long after I moved to Fresno, Calif., and began my career as an agricultural journalist more than 35 years ago after 15 years as a newspaper reporter. I told everyone that Jack Stone’s Barn was a neat place. My friends asked me to see if I could reserve it for a little event. I did not know Jack well and like I said, he has always intimidated. However, I called him. I still remember that conversation.
“Jack, I really enjoyed talking with you the other day at the barn and was wondering if you ever rented it out for parties and the like,” I asked sheepishly.
“No,” Jack responded with that booming voice, “but I do let my friends use it. When were you thinking about using it?” It was a great party.
Little did I know how much that word friend would come to mean to me over the years. No, Jack and I were not close. I’d call it an industry friendship, but each time we saw each other he made me feel like I was something special, worth his time to say hello and talk.
Everyone has a Jack Stone story or two. One last one from me. Jack lost Hilda, the love of his life, several years ago. Jack knew my wife had died a few years earlier. I was very blessed to re-marry someone very special, my high school sweetheart. Georgann went with me to the barn for some event. We spotted Jack, and I introduced him to Georgann. In typical Jack Stone fashion, he catered to her. He loved the ladies. We told our story of how we got back together, and he wanted to know more. He had found someone special from his past as well, but was not sure how to proceed. It was the only time I had ever seen Jack Stone indecisive.
Jack asked if he could get Georgann something to drink. She said Diet Coke. The coolers held only beer and wine. He was gone for a long time and when he returned he had the Diet Coke. He had walked across the road to his home to retrieve a Diet Coke for her.
We talked some more and said good night. We had something in common that cool summer evening. It was a personal conversation that was far from farming and water, his two most favorite subjects. It was special for me and Georgann that we could share something with Jack he seemed to want to hear.
OK, so it was only a Diet Coke and only a conversation at Jack Stone’s Barn, but as so many of us learned over the years, there was nothing “only” about Jack Stone.
There will be eulogies spoken and obituaries written about us all. We should all hope that they reflect a little of the kind of person Jack Stone was — a person who genuinely cared about everyone and everything in his world.
If you want a much better picture of Jack Stone than the person that I have presented, Google “Jack Stone, OnStar, YouTube.” Duke was aboard the horse drawn hearse that carried Jack to and from the barn for the last time. Watch the video to find out who Duke is.