Jerry Lon Litton was born in a small, one room farmhouse near Lock Springs, Missouri on May 12, 1937. Litton completed his high school education at Chillicothe High School, where he was president of both the National Honor Society and of the Chillicothe Chapter of Future Farmers of America. After serving as the Missouri state FFA president, Litton was elected as the FFA’s national secretary in 1956-57.
Upon completing high school, Litton enrolled in college at the University of Missouri. His passion for agriculture and agricultural education led him to the College of Agriculture. While at the university, Litton worked as a newscaster at a Columbia radio station and as a newspaper reporter and farm editor. During his sophomore year he was elected vice-president of the student body and was also named to the Mystical Seven for scholastic achievement and leadership.
Litton graduated from the College of Agriculture in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism and a minor in economics. Upon graduation, Litton returned to Chillicothe where he forged a farming partnership with his father, Charley. The Litton Charolais Ranch was formed and quickly became a success. The Litton Charolais Ranch became world-renowned for their genetics and breeding techniques. The Littons sold their Charolais cattle around the world and established a fine reputation as cattle breeders.
In 1972, Litton was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he advocated the rights of farmers and hardworking citizens. Often referred to as a “breath of fresh air in Washington,” Litton impressed his colleagues with his honesty and his political incorruptibility. While in Congress he served on the House Committee on Agriculture and was chair of the forestry subcommittee.
In 1976, Litton decided to seek the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Stuart Symington. He handily defeated the incumbent’s son, James Symington, and former governor Warren Hearnes in the Democratic primary on Aug. 3, 1976. That same evening, Litton, his wife, Sharon, and their two children, Linda and Scott, along with their pilot and the pilot’s son, died in a plane crash just after takeoff from Chillicothe Airport en route to a victory celebration in Kansas City.
Jerry Litton’s legacy lives on through the establishment of the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation. The Foundation’s mission helped in establishing the Jerry Litton Fund for Agricultural Leadership at CAFNR, from which the Litton Leadership Scholars program is funded. The Foundation continues to promote the leadership, integrity and perseverance that Litton was revered for.