Well-dressed, tall and affable, Alan Teague was a board chairman right out of central casting.
The Limoneira Co. chairman had a politician’s gift for remembering names and faces. He had a welcoming way with strangers that complemented his ambition and drive.
He was pretty much the most important person in Republican Party politics in West Ventura County, but he put family, his beloved Santa Paula and his vision for a modern, globalized Limoneira ahead of ideology.
His death on Sept. 12, after a fall triggered a series of medical setbacks, came just as many of his grandest plans were finally coming to fruition. He was 76.
Teague’s easy way with people was in part a gift from his father, the late Charles M. Teague, who represented Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in the House of Representatives for nearly two decades. The sort of moderate Republican who has been pushed to the sidelines in recent years, the elder Teague was a powerful force in Congress. When he died suddenly of a heart attack in Santa Paula on New Year’s Day 1974, the political ripples spread far and wide.
“There was a lot of pressure on my dad to take his spot,” recalled Alex Teague, Alan Teague’s son and Limoneira’s senior vice president of operations. “Dad did not want to take my brother and me back east. He turned it down because he loved the area here.”
Bob Lagomarsino, also a Republican, would win election to the House seat in a special election and hold it until 1992. Teague stayed in Santa Paula, where he kept working on a long-range plan to transform a family farming operation into a worldwide citrus and avocado producer.
In the 1990s, the Teague-McKevett ranch and other family holdings were merged with those of Dr. Sam Edwards to create a much larger enterprise, including a packing house with vertically integrated operations.
A partnership with Santa Paula-based Calavo Growers gave Limoneira’s avocados access to a national market and eventually provided a way for year-round avocado distribution to strengthen prices and dramatically increase demand.
A few years ago, Limoneira left the Sunkist branding cooperative to market its lemons directly to large customers such as Chipotle. Alex Teague ran the growing agribusiness operations at Limoneira while Harold Edwards, son of the late Sam Edwards who died earlier this year, took over CEO duties.
In 2010, Limoneira listed its stock on the Nasdaq to gain broader access to capital markets and expand its lemon production to meet year-round demand.
Alex Teague said his dad realized early on that the company needed to get bigger in order to compete effectively. “When we went public, we had the agricultural vision fueled by real estate,” he said. “Ultimately, the goal was to have 30,000 acres worldwide and be “the world’s premier lemon supplier.”
When development restrictions under Ventura County’s Save Our Agricultural Resources, or SOAR, initiative were put into place, Teague marshaled resources and votes to annex Teague-McKevett ranch, later known as East Area One, into the city of Santa Paula.
The result is that over the coming years, a new residential community with schools, recreational facilities and shops will create a 21st Century Santa Paula. “He wanted East Area One for the community, and we are well on our way,” said Alex Teague.
In philanthropy, the elder Teague was eager to get Ventura County’s cities working together. He helped form the Ventura County Community Foundation, worked on greenbelts to protect open land in Ventura, Santa Paula and Fillmore and was known as a consensus builder.
“He was a good sounding board and clearly a force in the political and agricultural arenas,” said former Ventura County District Attorney Mike Bradbury.
The consummate board chair, Teague never sought the limelight but instead was happy to be the force behind the scenes at Limoneira, in Santa Paula and in the world of global agribusiness.
Teague would sit patiently while a reporter or Wall Street analyst mispronounced Limoneira a few times until he or she got it right. (The correct pronunciation is “Lee-mon-air-a.”)
He gracefully put up with the occasional bad season, frost or setback in real estate. After all, Limoneira was founded in 1893, and East Area One had been in the works since the 1960s.
He worked closely with his son Alex and CEO Edwards, now interim chair, to make sure that Limoneira’s strategic vision was intact and a succession plan was in place.
Above all, he had a gift for making lifelong friends and seeking common ground. “He loved to find out what makes people tick,” said Alex Teague.
• Contact Henry Dubroff at [email protected]