We started the tribute to Ben in April with a cake advertising his drink of choice, and his reaction reminded us of why we’re going to miss him so much.
Ben was delighted, and then quickly quipped, “Not only do you bring in a cake decorated with the Diet Coke logo, but you bring it into a Pepsi-only campus!”
It was a typical Ben zinger: quick, corny, deflecting attention away from himself. And underneath it, detailed, sometimes arcane knowledge that in more serious contexts makes him so effective with policy and with administration. Because he knows the University of Florida so well that he knows about the soft drink contract, he was able to make the joke.
Ben knows UF/IFAS like few who aren’t actually on the payroll. Maybe that’s in part because he helped create pieces of it.
Nearly 20 years ago, during yet another Florida building boom, virtually all new landscapes were irrigated. Ben saw we needed better approaches than day-of-the-week restrictions or even bans to control water use.
Under Ben’s leadership, FNGLA made water issues one of its research priorities, and it helped then-early-career scientist Michael Dukes to establish a great deal of expertise on water use in landscapes.
Since then, FNGLA has continued to support science through research grants to our faculty. We honored FNGLA as the UF/IFAS research partner of the year in 2019, and Ben honored us by coming to our Dinner of Distinction to accept it.
Ben, along with Hugh Gramling of the then Tampa Bay Wholesale Growers, realized UF/IFAS needed research scientists, Extension professionals and communications staff to supply the science behind water conservation. They worked over multiple legislative sessions to secure the funding for what was then called the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (it’s since been subsumed as part of the Center for Land Use Efficiency).
The center has allowed us to bridge departments to bring multiple scientific disciplines to solving industry challenges. I just don’t know when we would have been able to establish such a center without Ben’s leadership.
He also sent us people. FNGLA has been one of the steadiest sources of participants in our Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources. And when your communications leader Kate Clary went to Ben and asked for his support her pursuit of a Ph.D., he sent her to Ricky Telg at our Center for Public Issues Education.
A message from Ben carried a lot of weight with Telg. After all, Ben was instrumental in securing the initial state funding which established the PIE Center in 2011.
Ben communicated to legislators that the PIE Center would help “bridge the green divide” between those with differing perspectives on how to sustain a viable agriculture industry while protecting the state’s natural resources and the environment. In years since, Ben has remained a strong advocate for the PIE Center.
The resulting connection between Clary and Telg is so meaningful that she was appointed to the PIE Center’s Advisory Board.
Ben made a strong statement last year by publishing FNGLA’s white paper calling for elevating the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program to help manage the projected increase in demand for water in the decades to come.
And then, voilà, the Legislature passed a $2.5 million expansion of FFL, which has since regrettably been struck from the FY 2023 budget.
It seems Ben could see the future more clearly than the rest of us. He’s retiring as a landmark figure in our history.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).