The Tyson Family

Willie Tyson and Samantha Strickland on Tyson's cattle farm
Willie Tyson speaks with his granddaughter, Samantha Strickland, about the cattle on his Perry, Georgia, farm. Both Tyson and Strickland are CAES alumni. Photo by Dennis McDaniel

Willie Tyson (BSAE – Agricultural Engineering, ’57) may be the longest-serving University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences recruiter not employed by the college.

He grew up on a Tifton, Georgia, farm and was living at home, attending Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, when he found out about the university’s agricultural engineering degree. He then transferred into and, later, graduated from CAES. He devoted his entire career to the U.S. Air Force, spending most of his years in personnel management. He says his degree served him well there.

His CAES recruitment efforts began in the Air Force.

“I convinced the Air Force there are lots of good people coming out of the ag college, that the best engineers coming out of Georgia were in Athens,” he said.

There are a number of agricultural engineers working at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia, as a result of Tyson’s efforts.

He never pushed his children into CAES, they said, but Tyson’s influence did extend to his family. He first learned of his son, Tony Tyson’s (BSAE – Agricultural Engineering, ’79; MS – Agricultural Engineering, ’80) interest in pursuing a CAES degree in the local newspaper.

“When Tony got some scholarships in high school … someone interviewed him and I read that in the newspaper,” Willie Tyson said. “That’s the first I learned he wanted to go into agricultural engineering.”

“He had an influence,” Tony Tyson said of his father’s role in his degree choice. “I knew Dad went to the university, that our family had a close affinity to the university.”

Willie Tyson was always open to sharing his knowledge and CAES experiences with his children and their friends.

“When they were trying to decide what they wanted to do, I talked to them and other young people,” he said. “We’d have cookouts and they’d ask questions about the college. I saw several of them go to the UGA college of ag.”

Tony Tyson went on to work for the college, first as a student worker, then graduate assistant, then spent nearly 40 years working in UGA Cooperative Extension, including one year at the Tifton Coastal Plain Station. “It was my pleasure to be involved in the early days of irrigated agriculture in Georgia,” he said.

Tony Tyson’s younger sister, Jody (Tyson) Strickland (BSAE – Agricultural Engineering, ’86), came to CAES undecided as to her major. She knew her father and brother had good experiences in their major, but she was interested in all aspects of agriculture. Then Willie Tyson shared an article with her.

“My father read an article that Dr. Robert Brown, who was the head of ag engineering at the time, had written in the Market Bulletin about careers in ag engineering, how good they were and how they were needed,” Strickland said. “My dad showed me that article and encouraged me. I was strong in math and science and I have always had a passion for agriculture, so I decided to major in ag engineering.”

Strickland began her career working as an engineer for Proctor and Gamble Cellulose, which was later bought by Weyerhaeuser. She served in many leadership positions with the company, and says her education opened many doors. She is currently the vice president of F&W Forestry Services.    

Jody Strickland married another UGA agricultural engineer, Edmond Strickland (BSAE – Agricultural Engineering, ’84). Tony Tyson and Jody Strickland’s sister, Betsy (Tyson) Flanders, is married to Reuben Flanders (BSA – Animal Science, ’81), another CAES alumnus. He earned a veterinary degree from UGA in 1984.

Tony Tyson’s son, Nathan Tyson (BSA – Agribusiness, ’08; MPPPM – Plant Protection and Pest Management, ’10), now a regional account manager for CNI, an agricultural retailer supplier, attended the college, as did all three of Jody Strickland’s children: Tyson Strickland (BSA – Animal Science, ’11), who took part in the college’s Food Animal Veterinary Incentive Program, graduated from UGA with a veterinary degree in 2016 and now works as a cattle veterinarian; Morgan (Strickland) Grizzle (BSA – Agribusiness, ’13), who went on to get a master’s degree from UGA in forestry resources and now works at AgGeorgia Farm Credit; and Samantha Strickland, an agribusiness and food industry marketing and administration double major who graduated in May with plans to go into food safety. Tyson Strickland’s wife, Anna (McIntyre) Strickland (BSA – Agricultural Communication, ’12; MAL - Master of Agricultural Leadership, ’17), the UGA Archway Professional in Hart County, is also a CAES graduate.

“Having my mom, dad, uncle, granddad and siblings go to the college, to UGA, was a tradition I wanted to keep,” Samantha Strickland said.

Another tradition, Tony Tyson, Reuben Flanders, Jody Strickland, Tyson Strickland, Anna Strickland, Morgan Grizzle and Samantha Strickland are all members of the honor society, AGHON.

Samantha Strickland recalls her mother’s time as CAES Alumni Association president from 2001 to 2002 — her grandfather served as president of the association from 1991 to 1992 — and going to association banquets and events with her whole family. “There are pictures of me there in my baby carrier,” she said.

“CAES has been a family to our family,” Jody Strickland said. “We have been very active and involved in the alumni association. It’s a chance for us to reconnect as a family and to our friends and family in CAES.”

Willie Tyson continues to recruit students to CAES. He serves on the board of his county Farm Bureau and still encourages students at local schools to consider careers in agriculture.

And he hopes that he’s set an example.

His legacy of not only representing the college, but supporting it — also the legacy his children leave — is not lost on the latest Tyson-Strickland generation of CAES graduates. “This college has given me more than an education,” Samantha Strickland said. “Once I get out and on my feet, I’m going to give back.”

“You can see from the way we are involved, we do love this college and the university,” Tony Tyson said. “We try to support it the best we can. Those of us who came here are proud of the education we have.”

By Kathryn Schiliro