A Country Boy 'Blessed'
Life on the farm has been good to
Story and Photos by
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative CEO John
Lee says of the Conners, "Bobby and Lucy
have always been able to get more joy out of
life than anyone I know."
That’s how Bobby Conner describes
Conner, 72, retired in June from Mecklenburg Electric
Cooperative’s board of directors after 30 years of service to the co-op. His
day job is clerk of Halifax County’s Circuit Court. His passions are
farming, family and all things mechanical.
He and Lucy, his wife of 51 years, have three children —
Katherine, David and Richard; seven grandchildren — Robbie, Ben, Jessica,
Berkley, West, Emory and Bob; and 2,200 acres of land they actively farm.
Both sons are involved with their parents in working the family land, which
has evolved over the years from a tobacco farm to a beef, grain and flower
“I’ve been lucky all my life,” says Bobby. “There was
never a time when I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. And that, as
far back as I can remember, was to be a farmer.”
Bobby was born in 1940 on his family’s land (“in the
backwoods of Providence Community,” he says) in Halifax County, near
Nathalie. He was born within a half mile of the burial sites of his parents,
grandparents and great-grandparents. He graduated from Halifax High School
in 1958, did a six-month stint in the National Guard, then went to N.C.
State, where he earned a B.S. in animal science — and the undying affection
of Lucy Armistead.
“Lucy was in school at Peace College, which was about 10
minutes from N.C. State,” Bobby recalls. She had grown up on a farm near
Bobby and he had known her all his life, but they’d never dated.
“I had a car, so I started giving her a ride home when I
went. She would fix me cookies for taking her back and forth, and the
cookies kept getting bigger till they turned into a cake,” he recalls with a
smile. Bobby and Lucy started dating the summer between their freshman and
sophomore years in college and married during their junior year.
testament to the fact that he clean sup
well, Bobby Conner has been swapping
coveralls for a coat and tie to serve as
Halifax County's circuit court clerk since
Shortly after they finished
school and moved back to the county, they moved to Lucy’s family farm, in
1965, since both of her parents were deceased. The Conner and Armistead
farmsteads both date back to the 1800s, and as the years passed Bobby and
Lucy gradually acquired parts of both farms, as well as an adjacent tract
that had also been used as a farm since the 1800s.
“From 1963 until 2005, tobacco was very good to us,”
Bobby notes. But times change, and with mounting
social pressures on tobacco as a cash crop, the Conners saw the need to
evolve their operation. They began producing cattle and grain in the 1970s,
and continued to look at new or non-traditional agricultural opportunities
ranging from broccoli to flowers.
“By the 1990s, we had started growing tobacco plants in
greenhouses, and we gradually began converting those into flower houses,”
Bobby notes. We now have the equivalent of 15 greenhouses producing high-end
flowers. In the springtime during the season, the flower operation employs
up to a dozen people.” Bobby’s son Richard runs the flower operation, while
son David is involved in grain production on the farm, and does some
trucking and contracting work, as well. “And both of the boys help me with
hay and the cows,” Bobby adds.
From the Farmhouse to the Courthouse
In the 1960s and ’70s, Bobby gradually became involved in
politics as a spokesman for agriculture and rural issues. “There weren’t
many kids coming back home from college to farm, and I was one, so mainly
because of that, I got asked to serve as a sort of a farm spokesman,” he
notes. “I wasn’t too sure I would have much input, but I was asked to help,
so I did.”
He became known as a go-to person in Halifax County for
the rural vote, and in those years Bobby helped candidates running for
offices ranging from the county board of supervisors to the state
legislature. In the 1970s he also became increasingly involved in
community-improvement efforts, such as helping to start the Triangle
Volunteer Fire Department, of which he is a charter member and which, he
says, is still “going strong.”
During the 1980s, Bobby’s community involvement continued
to expand. In 1982, he was appointed to fill an empty seat on Mecklenburg
Electric Cooperative’s board of directors and was re-elected to the board
in every subsequent election. During his career on the cooperative’s board,
he served in a variety of leadership capacities ranging from chairman of the
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative board to chairman of the statewide
electric-cooperative association. In 1987, he was appointed to the Halifax
Regional Hospital’s board. In 1985, he was instrumental in helping to start
a community bank, Carter Bank & Trust.
When the incumbent circuit court clerk decided to retire
mid-term in 1987, Circuit Court Judge Charles L. McCormick appointed Bobby
to fill the position for the remainder of the term. At the end of the term,
state Sen. Howard Anderson and Judge McCormick encouraged Bobby to run for
“I was absolutely happy being a farmer,” Bobby points
out. “But between the hospital board and the bank and the other things I was
involved with, I guess Senator Anderson and Judge McCormick saw me as a
possible candidate for the county’s circuit court clerk.”
Bobby ran for the office. He won, and he’s been
re-elected as Halifax County’s circuit court clerk ever since.
“Bobby’s done such a good job for Halifax County,” says
Judge McCormick, now retired. “I’ve always been proud of that appointment.”
A Penchant for Puttering
Dealing with the various, often-contentious legal facets
of the circuit court — cases, trials, lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants —
can make the clerk’s job a stressful one. In fact, a difficult day in court
can leave you with downright scrambled sensibilities, Bobby says.
To allay the stresses of the court, Bobby indulges his
favorite pastime, working in his shop.
“Bobby spends a lot of time tinkering, usually from right
after work till late into the night,” notes Lucy. “It’s his main hobby, his
way of relaxing.”
Lucy is sure to look sweet upon the seat of
Bobby's "whatchamacallit" built for two.
His shop work ranges from restoring antique tractors and
cars to creating new single-copy inventions, such as a self-propelled manure
spreader and a whimsically conceived two-wheeled conveyance Lucy fancifully
refers to as his “whatchamacallit.”
A corollary hobby is collecting old farm tools, equipment
and other antique implements. It’s an activity Bobby, Lucy and friends have
long enjoyed, and it’s the genesis of what has turned into one of the
county’s premier events, the Halifax County Heritage and Antique Machinery
“Lucy and I and friends have
always enjoyed going to shows to see antique machinery, tractors, tools and
such,” Bobby notes. “We probably go to a dozen of these shows a year, in
farm states all up and down the East Coast. They’re celebrations of the way
farming used to be, with a blend of good food and good, clean, family fun.
“Nine years ago we decided to have one of these shows in
Halifax County. It was well received and we’ve had one every year since, and
5,000 to 6,000 people attend. To some extent, it’s more like the traditional
county fair-type event.”
Proceeds from the festival are used to improve the
fairgrounds, which now belongs to Halifax County and is used for various
rural-celebration events throughout the year. Money generated by the
festival is also used to provide scholarships for county high school seniors
who want to further their education in agriculture or motor sports.
“The festival has allowed us to show off the mechanical
aptitude of the community,” says Bobby. “A little bit of a mission of the
festival is to recognize the talents of the mechanically inclined. Our
festival shows that it’s okay for lawyers and doctors to ‘play with rust,’
to have fun with things mechanical.”
It’s Bobby’s way of doing what he’s done all his life —
promoting Halifax, Southside Virginia and rural life.
“Bobby and Lucy are wonderful people, and Bobby is
absolutely an ambassador for Halifax County and for the agricultural
community,” says Cathy Coles, who helps put on the annual Heritage and
Antique Machinery Festival. She notes that the Conners serve as directors of
“They’re the kind of people who’re always there when you
need them,” adds Tom West, the Conners’ neighbor and chairman of the Halifax
County Board of Supervisors. A retired farmer, West also enjoys collecting
and restoring old tractors and farm equipment. “We enjoy it together,” he
says of his neighbor. “That’s our play time.”
“Bobby’s really a good citizen,” says Judge McCormick.
“He always has the best interests of Halifax County, and Southside Virginia,
at heart in everything he does. He and Lucy are just a great couple, a huge
asset to our community.”
“Bobby’s one of those people you’re instantly comfortable
with,” adds John Lee, CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative. “He’s
easy-going, likeable, and he has a great sense of humor. The Heritage
Festival is his and Lucy’s baby, and they’ve given back a lot to the
community through the festival. He’s a strong family man, and Bobby and Lucy
have always been able to get more joy out of life than anyone I know.”
“Bobby Conner is just a great guy, with so many
interests,” adds Nancy McCormick, Judge McCormick’s wife. “And Lucy is such
a wonderful person, too. I don’t know of any couple who do so many things
together, and have so much fun.”
Reflecting on his career and his life with Lucy and their
family in rural Halifax County, Bobby Conner sums up things in two words:
And so — thanks to Bobby and Lucy Conner — Halifax
County, the agricultural community, and Southside Virginia are blessed as