Litton legacy of leadership lives on

Chillicothe Charolais rancher, Mizzou Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brother, Missouri Democratic politician, and a potential future United States President: Jerry Litton did it all.

But, the world would never know what could have been. A plane crash 43 years ago took the lives of Litton, his wife and two children, along with the pilot and his son. Litton had just won the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate that night.

Litton had an interest in politics from the beginning, according to Bonnie Mitchell, board member of the Jerry Litton Memorial Foundation.  There was never any doubt he could win any election he was in, she said.

Mitchell began working with Litton early in his career when he asked her to become the office manager on his ranch in Chillicothe, Missouri, while he worked in Jefferson City. As he climbed the ranks in both ranching and politics, Mitchell noted Litton’s genuine charisma.

“He had a unique way of identifying and connecting with every person,” Martin said. 

In fact, those who study Litton and his life agree with Mitchell.

“He was truly a people person,” said Jon Simonsen, professor of agricultural education and leadership at the University of Missouri. “When he spoke at conventions or events, he always followed up with a handshake or a thank you letter.”

Simonsen, who directs the Litton Scholars Program at MU said, “Anyone that met him, remembered him.”

As part of the Litton Scholars Program, Simonsen asks his students to have a conversation with their grandparents about Litton. According to Simonsen, this often results in students hearing stories of Litton’s life as a humble politician, intelligent rancher and phenomenal man.

Litton’s leadership skills were the inspiration for the Litton Scholars Program.

“Developing student leadership using Jerry as a case study and how he led and connected people helps students to understand behavioral leadership,” Simonsen said.

In Chillicothe, Missouri, everything from football stadiums to scholarships is dedicated to Litton. And on the MU campus, photos of Litton and many other memorabilia of his life are displayed in the front room of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity house to remind brothers of Litton’s impact and leadership.