ROBERTSON FAMILY ARCHIVES
Robin Robertson Longstreet with daughter Leighton, named after Thomas Leighton Sloan, at the pool at the compound around 1986.
ranch seemed to be to pay off debts he accumulated and to
generate cash for investing in his development and aviation
interests. The ranch sale incurs a $675,000 tax bill.
“I’ve only seen Mother cry a few times, but when the
papers were signed to sell Cow Creek, she cried,’’ daughter
Debra says of Jo Ann.
With the ranch sale, TL and Jo Ann net $2.26 million on the
total $6.76 million property transfer to neighboring Adams
Ranch Inc. for 3,800 acres and Charles Vavrus of Illinois for
about 13,200 acres. Vavrus changes Cow Creek’s name to his
brand, V-2 pronounced V Bar Two.
TL and Jo Ann retain ownership of some 2,500 acres of land
that comprised the north side of the ranch, where in the 1960s
TL had begun a successful citrus grove operation. With the
sale of the big part of the ranch, TL and Jo Ann are confronted
with what to do with their longtime ranch hands.
One of those hands, Earl Storey, who lived at the ranch
with his wife and three children, had already gone to work at
another nearby ranch.
TL asks grove manager Curtis Arnold to stay on along with
Curtis’ best friend and brother-in-law, Will’um Thomas, who
had been working at the ranch since the late 1940s under
Jo Ann’s grandfather. TL builds a small house for them at
the grove entrance on Orange Avenue, where they can stay
during the week and return to their wives at their homes in
Okeechobee during the weekends.
Jimmy Percy, who began working at the ranch as a summer
cowboy at the age of 14 and became manager, stays on as
manager of TL’s other operations.
When Vavrus takes over the ranch, Jimmy recommends
that a relatively new ranch hand, Larry Kesner, take over as
foreman instead of longtime ranch hand George “Junior’’
Mills, who had worked at the ranch from 1970 up until the
time of the sale Oct. 1, 1976.
“Tommy said if you want to stay here this man has promised
me he’s going to take care of you,’’ Buddy Mills remembers
TL telling his father. Though Junior feels slighted over
being passed over for the foreman’s job as he had raised his
kids at the ranch and felt it was home, he decides to stay on
under Vavrus and work for Kesner. Mechanic Jack Murphy,
who also lived at the ranch with his family, moves on to
A NEW FOCUS
With the largest part of the ranch sold, TL focuses on new
and existing business ventures. In 1977, he creates Golden
South Airways, a commuter airline using nine-seat Chieftain
planes. He’s on the board of First National Bank in Fort
Pierce. He also becomes the fixed-base operator at North
Carolina’s Macon County Airport near Tellico.
Robin Robertson Longstreet, who was raised by TL and
considered him a father, also worked for him at the Cow
Creek corporate office he had built at his compound on
Orange Avenue, managing his Southern Properties company.
She remembers his work ethic in those years.
“He was never one to lay around and not do something,’’
Robin says. “He was dressed every morning and in the office
or at the ranch working. We were in that office from 8 o’clock
to 5 o’clock every day.’’
One of the goals of Southern Properties was to build affordable
housing such as townhouses and duplexes that could
attract a workforce to the area. The company’s classifieds in
the local News-Tribune boasted: “We have places to rent that
can be within everyone’s budget.’’
The strategy of his commuter airline, Golden South Airways,
was to connect Fort Pierce with the growing hubs of
Orlando and West Palm Beach.
‘‘I thought he was a visionary,’’ says Robin, who named her