ALFA’s ‘wordsmith’, county native, to retire after 34 years

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The man who grew up on a Butler County farm and nicknamed the Alabama Farmers Federation’s “Wordsmith” is retiring after 34 years.

J. Paul Till, administrator of the Alabama Farmers Federation, will retire on Nov. 30.

“Paul has a talent to put a huge message in a few short words,” said Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore in announcing Till’s retirement. “Our organization would not be what it is today without the dedicated and loyal efforts of Paul Till. He has been an agent for positive change and improvement. We are all better for Paul having been in our lives.”

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Starting with the Federation in 1975 – after a stint as a reporter for The Associated Press – Till overhauled and expanded the Federation’s public relations and communications department, creating the popular Neighbors magazine, which told stories about his kind of people: rural working folks heavily invested in the land of their birth.

In an interview, Till, the son of Hurley Lewis and Era Johnson Till, recalled for Neighbors writer Jeff Helms how his parents kept four children fed on their 40-acre farm in Butler County in the 1960s. The family grew vegetables, stocked a freezer full of meat, and received some money from a cash tobacco crop, said Till.

“I didn’t know we were poor until President Lyndon B. Johnson came out with his war on poverty, and I read what the poverty level was,” Till told Neighbors.

But Till said his father encouraged his son to reach for better things.

“My daddy didn’t say much, but he told me, ‘Son, get a good education and don’t come back to the farm. You can’t make a living on the farm,’” Till said.

Till’s mother was killed in a car accident when he was 15-years-old, but he credits her or being the “spiritual anchor” of the family.

In 1981, he was named head of the Department of Information, which he transformed into a full-service public relations shop whose efforts included the award-winning “Farming Feeds Alabama” campaign. In 2003, he was promoted to administrator, reorganizing the Alfa Health operation and launching Alfa Dental, which has grown to include more than 6,000 policies in just two years.

Till and his wife, Barb, attend First Baptist Church of Montgomery where he serves as a deacon. They also lead a class on marriage for newlyweds.

Upon his retirement, Till told Neighbors he is especially looking forward to taking his five grandchildren on an overnight train trip to Washington D.C.