In any crowd, his was the broadest grin and the warmest welcome. He never met a stranger. The quintessential Southern gentleman and a pillar of the U.S. cotton industry for more than half a century, Lon Mann, Marianna, Ark., farmer/ginner, died Friday, Dec. 12, at Nashville, Tenn. He was 78.

“If you look at anything involving progress in the cotton and ginning sectors, Lon Mann was right there, pushing it along,” said Lee Todd, retired executive vice president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association, when Mr. Mann was named the organization's 2000 Ginner of the Year. “His lifetime of service reflects involvement, concern, and accomplishment.”

A partner in McClendon, Mann, and Felton, Inc., at Marianna, he was a third generation ginner. “I just sort of fell into the business,” he would laugh. “I came back from college and service in the Navy over-schooled, but under-educated for running a farm or gin. Neither of my brothers was interested in the business, and I just sort of rode my father's coattails in all that I've accomplished.” He later took over the 2,000-acre cotton and soybean farm.

The year he joined his father's operation, mules were being phased out, and “I saw my first-ever mechanical cotton picker, a one-row machine.” From that point, he saw the gin evolve to one of the most modern facilities in the Mid-South in partnership with Larry McClendon and Trent Felton.

Mr. Mann's involvement in agriculture and ginning included many honors and milestones. He had served as president of the National Cotton Council, the National Cotton Ginners Association, the Agricultural Council of Arkansas, AgriCenter International, and the Mid-South Ginners Council, the forerunner of the present Southern Cotton Ginners Association.

He was a key player in the Cotton Producers Institute, helping to effect the transition from a voluntary per-bale donation to the checkoff program that resulted in the formation of Cotton Incorporated, the industry's research and promotion organization. He served for a dozen years on the Cotton Board, which provides oversight for Cotton Incorporated.

In recognition of his efforts on behalf of the cotton industry, he was presented the prestigious Harry Baker Award from the National Cotton Council. He was inducted into the Arkansas Agricultural Hall of Fame and received the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service's Cotton Achievement Award.

He was a former chairman of the board of Methodist Healthcare Systems at Memphis. A member of Marianna First Methodist Church, he had served as a member of its administrative board. He also had been president of the Marianna-Lee County school board, the Marianna-Lee County Chamber of Commerce, and the Marianna Rotary Club, and a director of Marianna First National Bank.

Memorial services were at 11 a.m., Dec. 15, at First Methodist Church, Marianna.

He is survived by his wife, June Allen Beasley Mann; a son, William Cheairs Mann, Memphis, Tenn; three daughters, Dr. June Averyt, Memphis, Louise Mann, Fayetteville, Ark., and Burkley Mann Allen, Nashville, Tenn.; and six grandchildren.