As the chancellor emeritus of the State University System of Florida, Dr. York is widely recognized for his leadership in higher education. But his roots in education began as a 4-H club member in rural Alabama, where he grew up on a farm. From an early age, Dr. E.T. York quickly demonstrated his leadership abilities and an enduring compassion to better the lives of others.
During his tenure as the University of Florida Provost for Agriculture, and later as Vice President for Agricultural Affairs, York helped organize the Florida 4-H Foundation and later the SHARE Council. Both were very instrumental to the growth of the 4-H program in Florida. He was a frequent speaker at 4-H club events throughout the state for many decades.
Dr. York was involved in some of the most pivotal moments in the history of the Florida 4-H Youth Development program. Dr. York provided leadership for the establishment of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) in 1964.The integration of separate 4-H programs at the University of Florida, Florida State University, and Florida A&M University also began during this time period and brought 4-H’s many programs under one umbrella at the University of Florida.
About those changes, York said, “How agriculture is taught may change but the need for agricultural education is basic and will never change.”
His work also directly influenced the advancement of the entire Cooperative Extension System. Dr. York was involved in the founding of the Journal of Extension, the professional journal for cooperative extension workers. For decades, this journal has provided professional development support and ideas for cooperative extension agents working in every field, including 4-H.
In the opening issue of the Journal of Extension in 1963, he wrote: “The unique feature of Cooperative Extension work is the manner in which knowledge is applied directly to solving problems – using education to help individuals, families, businesses, or even communities solve problems which may be limiting the achievement of their goals. This involves the process of helping people to analyze problems, to consider alternative ways of dealing with them, decide on programs of action, and finally carry out such programs.”
While working for the Federal Extension Service during the turbulent early 1960s, Dr. York worked to foster integration of national 4-H events and activities. As recounted in the national history book of 4-H, 4-H: An American Idea: 1900-1980, Dr. York sent a letter saying that “both the 4-H Conference and Congress will be open to whomever the states send – there will be no race restriction.”
In addition to serving as provost for agriculture, vice president for agricultural affairs, executive vice president and interim president at the University of Florida, York was chancellor of the State University System from 1975 to 1980. “Dr. York’s service over the past 50 years has strengthened the land-grant university system and its role in domestic and international agricultural development,” said Dr. Jimmy Cheek, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “He has been recognized as a leader in agriculture for his talents as a scientist, educator and administrator.”
York has applied the land-grant institution's philosophy of knowledge for public benefit to a lifelong advocacy for international agricultural development. In that role, he has led several presidential missions and served on many national and international bodies concerned with agricultural development and world hunger. "A world filled with hungry, sick, and poverty-ridden people is likely to be an unstable world. The United States has a vital stake in the outcome of the war on hunger," York said in a 1983 speech.
York also served as an advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. In that capacity, he traveled widely to provide agricultural assistance in countries throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa. His analysis of the agricultural development challenges faced by the countries of Central America and the Caribbean was a precursor to the Caribbean Basin Initiative.
He is the author of more than 100 technical papers and books, and he has lectured at more than 40 universities throughout the U.S. and around the world. His experiences growing up and throughout his career are recounted in, A Wonderful Journey: From an Appalachian Mountain Hillbilly to a Florida Cracker.
Dr. York is the recipient of many awards including the National 4-H Alumni Award and the National Partner in 4-H award. The Florida Museum of History named him one of twelve “Great Floridians” in 1997. He was honored in January 2003 by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture in Washington, D.C. for his role in promoting rural prosperity in the Americas.
In 2003, he received an honorary Doctor of Sciences degree from North Carolina State University. He also has received honorary doctorates from Auburn University, the University of Florida and Ohio State University. In 2004, York received the Service to American and World Agriculture Award from the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.
While officially retired, Dr. York has remained active in state educational policy issues, agricultural and education programs and campus student life.