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For Carey family, success and service went hand in hand

Diaper changes, feedings and joyful bliss usually envelope the first few days of a new mother's life, but the days after Trudy Carey gave birth to her oldest daughter were anything but blissful.

Just 10 days after her daughter Amy came into the world, Trudy learned that doctors had diagnosed her husband with tuberculosis. Bill Carey went to the hospital because he was spitting up blood, and doctors decided to keep him there — indefinitely.

Trudy had to raise her newborn and help run her husband's upstart cattle company. While Bill made telephone calls from his hospital room and his father came down from the Careys' native Wisconsin to handle the livestock, Trudy managed the books.

"That's how I became involved in the business," said Trudy, now 74. "Because I had to."

Pressed into service, Trudy stayed involved. Bill recovered after 11 months and the two teamed to turn their farm interests into one of the state's most respected agribusinesses.

That success, along with Bill's longtime work with 4-H and FFA students and Trudy's volunteer work with industry groups, recently earned them induction into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame, one of the industry's highest honors

Bill died in 1997, but Trudy stood proudly to accept the award for herself and her late husband at a dinner during last month's Florida State Fair.

"It was a husband-wife partnership that brought the best out of both of them," said attorney and longtime family friend Joe Garcia.

In 1957, Bill Carey came to Brandon from Wisconsin, where he grew up on a farm, looking to sell a herd of cattle. He struggled to get a good price, so he held on to 19 of the 20. Before returning to Wisconsin, he left the cattle on Ruth and Vernon Graves' pasture where Westfield Brandon mall currently sits.

When he came back, he learned that a man from Cuba had purchased the cattle. The idea of being an international exporter of cattle got its start with that transaction, and Bill soon relocated his new bride to start a life in Florida.

With a degree from the University of Wisconsin, Trudy first worked at what was then the brand-new University of South Florida before joining the family business.

Even after she began handling the accounting, Trudy said she never imagined the business would blossom into one of the most significant in Brandon and in the state. But eventually, it grew to include a 2,000-acre ranch, two dairies, a cattle brokerage firm, a feedlot, a trucking business and, of course, an international livestock export business.

The Careys would go on to develop an export/import business in Poland. They started with cattle, and Bill soon turned over the business to younger son Billy.

"It was very difficult," Trudy said. "We banked in Vienna. There were no checking accounts in Poland. The phone system went through Sweden or Denmark. No one had phones. They used teletypes on the farms.

"Bill took Billy over and trained him and Billy was responsible for a huge, huge undertaking," Trudy said.

"I would say, 'What should I bring Billy?' and he would say, 'Bring toilet paper.' "

The business eventually branched out into other products, including alcoholic beverages. Now the younger Carey continues to live in Poland as chief executive officer of Central European Distribution Co.

"Now Billy says bring golf balls or tennis balls."

The Careys' daughters, Amy and Jill, live in Brandon and follow in their parents' tradition of community service.

Success in the business world never deterred the Careys from giving back to the community and the agriculture industry. Bill loved helping kids find animals to raise for beef and dairy projects.

Trudy was elected president of the Florida Cattlewomen's Association in 1987 and chairwoman of the Florida Beef Council in 1992. She also served two terms on the National Beef Promotion and Research Board. The Florida Department of Agriculture named her woman of the year in 1997.

After Bill's death — he was struck by an Amtrak train while driving to his farm in January of 1997 — Trudy remain involved in the community. She teamed with Garcia to help raise nearly $2 million for what would become the Bill Carey Boys & Girls Club.

Trudy stays busy as a member of the Boys & Girls Club Foundation board for Hillsborough County. She also plays bridge weekly and spends time with her grandchildren.

They were born after Bill died, but discovered all of their grandfather's accomplishments when they watched a video at the awards dinner.

"They got to see what he had done and what I had done. That was really neat."

For Trudy, that may have been the best award.

That's all I'm saying.

For Carey family, success and service went hand in hand 03/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:50pm]
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