Thomas “Tom” Hansen Braddock says that despite his “getting up in years now” 4-H has kept him young. He adds that he’s had a lot of time during his 38-year career for 4-H’s “anti-aging” properties to work their magic on him.
Braddock joined the 4-H family as an assistant county 4-H agent for Duval County where he worked for 10 years. During that time he worked with seventeen school, community and county-wide 4-H clubs.
“I knew Tom when we worked together in Duval County at the start of his career,” said James Watson. “No county agent could have had a better assistant. Any assignment given to him was carried out far beyond my expectations. He added much prestige to the County Extension Office and gained invaluable people skills. He had a strong work ethic and became well known and well respected throughout the county.”
During the remaining twenty-eight years of his extension career he served as a Multi-County Agent for Nassau, Baker, Clay and St. Johns counties. He ultimately returned to Duval County, where he was appointed county extension director.
During his career, Braddock served as host of the daily TV program in Jacksonville called, “Hi, Neighbor”, which often featured 4-H, its leaders, projects and opportunities. This community visibility provided 4-H members with frequent opportunities for public speaking, confidence-building and leadership development.
When asked what drew him into a career in extension, Braddock replied, “The young people. Surrounding myself with their eagerness to learn and excel was very attractive to me. I always found my association with them stimulating and exciting and I found that generally they all wanted to improve themselves and develop skills that led to good citizenship.”
Braddock feels that 4-H is especially important to youth today. “The value system, work ethic and education that 4-H provides are so important in today’s world,” said Braddock. “The projects are a real educational venture and the work ethic they develop will serve them well in life.”
He coached Duval County 4-H’s livestock judging team for seventeen years. He also coached land judging teams, developed fifteen 4-H project winners at the state-level, and assisted in placing ten members on state dairy judging teams. Citizenship, community service, and leadership development were the focus of 4-H clubs he developed in three communities.
Braddock became director and president of the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair, where he encouraged a wide-range of 4-H activities. He also built support for the Duval County 4-H Foundation, which was begun by his predecessor, James Watson.
One of the biggest challenges Braddock sees facing 4-H Is getting on the calendars of today’s busy young people. “I’m amazed at the competition for young people’s time in this day and age,” said Braddock. “They have real difficulty in getting everything done that they need to do. There are so many things – for good or ill – that put demands on them. I admire them for making the right choices and doing the things that are important to them.”
Braddock hopes that 4-H will be important to some of them because he believes 4-H members are set apart from other youth. “I enjoy the behavior, the respectful attitude of 4-H members. They are still very respectful at a time when respect one for another has declined,” he said.
Since his retirement from the Florida Cooperative Extension Service in 1995, Braddock has remained active in 4-H in a volunteer capacity. For twelve years he and his wife, Mary, have hosted an annual seafood cookout for the contributors to the Duval County 4-H Foundation. A scholarship has been established in his name by the county 4-H Foundation.
In retirement he has continued for more than twenty years a tradition begun while he was county extension director. Each year during the holidays he delivers freshly-made syrup to city hall’s government leaders and employees. "The smiles on their faces are just worth the whole thing," he said. "People get a blessing from just giving."
Now in his late 70s, Braddock is still carrying with his syrup jars the same message he has been spreading for decades. People don't understand how important Florida farmers are to the nation, providing fruit, vegetables and even livestock for consumption, he said.
Braddock says his involvement with 4-H remains important today for many reasons. “We’re in a very difficult time for the state. Money is tight and it’s especially tight for funding and programs,” said Braddock. “I enjoy the fact that I can be supportive to 4-H and I enjoy the association of those who also support the program.”
In addition to his work with 4-H, Braddock was a member of the Kiwanis Club and he served in various leadership capactities for the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair. He is a member of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the Florida Forestry Association.
“Working with training and helping develop 4-H youth was the most enjoyable and rewarding experience of my career,” said Braddock. “I truly enjoyed challenging and encouraging the young people to do their best and excel in whatever they undertook. I am certain that while working with and training youth, I have learned and developed with them. My life is richer for having had this close association.”