Lannie Lee, an icon of Bulloch County agriculture, passed away Wednesday after a brief illness. The 96-year-old was a longtime member of the Bulloch County Farm Bureau, joining in 1947 and serving as president for the past 10 years.
Known for his love of farming, fascination with tractors and amiable nature, Lee began farming his family’s land on Pretoria-Rushing Road in the late 1940s after returning from serving in World War II.
He was president of the Brooklet Farm Bureau Chapter in the 1950s and served as a director of the Bulloch County Farm Bureau for a number of years. He served as vice president from 1973 until 2007, when he became president, a position he held until his death.
“He was an outstanding person,” said Elliott Marsh, past chairman of the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee. Both of Marsh’s grandfathers passed away when he was younger, but “when I met Mr. Lannie, it was like them being around,” he said. “I learned so much from him and listened to him and respect what he did for the community and for Bulloch County agriculture.”
Lee was honored for his many years of service in January when he attended a leadership luncheon at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention in Phoenix.
He was recognized in 2014 as a Deen Day Service to Mankind Award recipient, and in 2010, he and his family were selected as the Bulloch County Farm Family of the Year by the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee.
Known for his cane syrup, Lee only began making it on his own about 15 years ago, though he helped his family do so all his life. He enjoyed working on his farm, which has been in the family for more than 100 years and has produced cattle, cotton, tobacco, corn and much more.
“I am heartbroken,” said Andrea Whitfield with AgSouth Farm Credit, also a past chairman of the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee. “He always came to all our events and was a supporter of all we do. Mr. Lannie was a strong advocate for Bulloch County agriculture and was our rock. He meant the world to us.”
Amy Anderson with the Bulloch County Farm Bureau remembered Lee on Wednesday.
“He was just an inspirational guy,” she said. “He had the greatest attitude. He was always laughing — we all knew that chuckle — and if you called him at 8 a.m., he was already on that tractor.”
In an article appearing in the Statesboro Herald after the Lees were named Farm Family of the Year in 2010, local businessman Frank Rozier remembered going with his father to Lee's farm about 40 years prior to sell him a truck.
"Lannie was planting, and we pulled to the end of the field," he said.
Rozier's father, F.C. Rozier, told Lee he wanted to trade trucks. After a bit of dickering, with the senior Rozier writing figures down on his hand, Lee reportedly said, "All right F.C., I can't come in until tomorrow. I'll take it, and I'll be there tomorrow."
With that, he went back to his task, Rozier said.
"He never got off his tractor seat,” he said. “That's the way they did business back in those days."
Lee was an efficient farmer who always “tried to leave the land better than he found it,” said Bulloch County Agent Bill Tyson. “He would always come by the office with soil samples. He was an avid supporter of agriculture and did a bunch for our community and for Bulloch County agriculture.”
Bulloch County Farm Bureau agency manager Todd Faircloth called Lee his “best friend.” He recalled helping Lee make wine “the old-fashioned way” by crushing grapes, adding sugar and burying it in jars.
What he didn’t know before they began the winemaking process, however, was that Lee wanted him to dig a trench about 18 inches deep. When Faircloth encountered hard clay, he told Lee he didn’t think he would be able to dig the trench, but Lee went to a barn and came back carrying a pickaxe, he said.
“I never, not for one minute, got to spend time with him that he was not smiling,” Faircloth said. “Even if you were unhappy, he would cheer you up. He really lived — lived life to the fullest, was never pretentious, just old-school people.”
Marsh agreed: “He lived a life fuller than any of us can ever wish and pray to live.”
According to Hodges-Moore Funeral Home, a gathering for family and friends will be held from 5–8 p.m. Friday at the funeral home.
The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church, with Elder John Scott officiating. Burial will follow in the church cemetery.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.