For the King family, 4-H has always been a family affair. Robert King, M.D. began his 4-H career at the age of eight in 1944 at age 10 as a Banana Hill 4-H Club charter member and club president. He later served as president of the Manatee County Senior Boys 4-H Club and County 4-H Council.
His first 4-H projects were dairy, dairy goats, and poultry. He later completed projects in rabbits, beef, gardening, home beautification and improvement, citizenship, and animal judging. He attended State 4-H Legislature, National 4-H Congress, and the National 4-H Leadership Conference.
After graduation from medical school, King served a general internship at Denver General Hospital at the University of Colorado. He completed specialty training in ophthalmology at Harvard University’s Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital and completed his residency as the chief resident at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia in 1963. He established the Manatee Eye Clinic in 1964 and the practice grew to include seven physicians and a staff of 50 people.
He co-established the Cataract Surgery Center, one of the first freestanding outpatient surgery centers on the west coast of Florida. He served as chief of surgery for two terms, as the chief of staff, and as a member of the Board of Trustees of Manatee Memorial Hospital. He was president of the Manatee County Medical Society and authored A History of the Practice of Medicine in Manatee County, Florida in 1985.
King served as a 4-H leader, supporter, parent and resource leader. Although his wife had never participated in 4-H as a young person, she soon became a leader after their children joined 4-H, and her husband continued his involvement. King’s children often excelled in their 4-H projects, and attended the National 4-H Leadership Conference.
He helped establish the county 4-H Foundation and served as its founding president. He was an advocate for increased 4-H funding from the Kiwanis Club in his community. The King family also hosted a 4-H exchange student through the International 4-H Farm Youth Exchange program.
"Participation in 4-H is one of the most beneficial and worthwhile experiences a youngster can have. 4-H teaches you to accept and fulfill responsibilities,” said King. “Through 4-H I gained so much valuable experience in leadership, public speaking and record keeping.”
King still remembers the Robert’s Rules of Order that taught him how to conduct a meeting properly, and says the skills he learned in 4-H have been invaluable to him both personally and professionally through the years.
“My 4-H experience had a tremendous impact on me personally,” said King. “Largely because of 4-H I have maintained an interest in agriculture my whole life, in fact I have a son today who is very active in agriculture. My whole family has been involved in 4-H because of my positive experience.”
King fondly recalls a horrifying, yet humorous event that happened several years ago. “My wife and I judged county events for a number of years. At one event there was a kid sitting in the audience holding a little rabbit in his lap. He sat and petted it and cuddled it while the other kids were doing their demonstrations. When his turn came he stood up and said, ‘my name is so and so and I’m nine years old and my demonstration is how to dress a rabbit,’ and he killed the rabbit on the spot. From that moment on there became a rule that there would be no live animal demonstrations at events.”
King’s 4-H career has spanned more than 35 years, from 4-H member to 4-H leader, 4-H dad and 4-H advocate in the local business community. He assisted with establishing the Manatee County 4-H Foundation, which has assets of more than $300,000. He obtained financial support from the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton for the 4-H/Tropicana Public Speaking Contest before it became a statewide 4-H project.
His preparation through 4-H leadership and citizenship projects equipped him to be successful in life.