Livestock, Ranching Industries Celebrate Willingham

Recently, the prestigious 2022 Golden Spur Award, given by the livestock and ranching industries in recognition of accomplishments by an individual, went to longtime Park Cities resident Clark Willingham. 

“It’s a unique story that somebody from the Park Cities gets the national ranching award,” Willingham said.

It started when Willingham, then a student at SMU Dedman School of Law, was working a part-time job as a bookkeeper at the Peggy Taylor Talent Agency. He asked young model Jane Hitch out on a date. A year later, they were married.

“She said she grew up on a farm,” Willingham said, chuckling. “That was a gross understatement.” 

In 1884, Jane’s great-grandfather, James K. Hitch, homesteaded in the desolate Oklahoma panhandle and started the now historic Hitch Ranch, which still thrives with a capacity for over 100,000 head of cattle.

Specializing in agricultural tax law, Willingham graduated from SMU and began performing lobbying work in Washington for the industry. 

“My father-in-law told me I really needed to be involved in the industry associations,” he recalled. 

Willingham joined the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, becoming the president of the latter by 1988.

“The convention was here in Dallas that year, and I got Stanley Marcus to be my keynote speaker,” Willingham said.

Marcus and fellow convention speaker Bo Pilgrim urged him to diversify the marketing of the beef industry.

“Stanley Marcus said, ‘You guys are just selling steak. You need to broaden your base,’” Willingham recalled. “So, we did.”

Through his Texas Cattle Feeders connections, Willingham got on the Texas Beef Council.

“I just kept getting on these boards, moving up through the ladders of those,” he said. “I became a big proponent to merge all of these organizations, and ultimately we did.” 

The merger happened in 1996, and he was president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association by 1998 – the 100th year anniversary of a national livestock organization.

“Ironically, the very first president in 1898 was also a lawyer from Dallas,” Willingham noted. “I went to almost every state Cattlemen’s Association meeting over the years, also New Zealand and Australia for the Meat Export Federation.”

Willingham is the treasurer of the National Cattlemen’s Foundation, on the selection committee for the Environmental Stewardship Award, and on the Tax Committee. 

“The Environmental Stewardship Award is pretty important these days,” he explained. “We need to show how the industry really is green.”

Though he and Jane now reside off nearby Turtle Creek, Willingham’s long Park Cities roots run deep. Their daughter Meredith Mabus is a past president of the Armstrong PTA, her husband Rick started the Highland Park High School Cycling Team and Bass Fishing Team, and this year their son Will is president of both as a senior.

“I still practice law,” Willingham said. “I still do a lot of lobbying in Washington. I still go to all the cattle industry meetings, and I’ve still got the same season tickets at Highland Park games. I’m not giving them up; they’re good seats.”

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