FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - When cotton was king in California, it had a reticent monarch in James Griffin Boswell II, who built the company that bears his name into a global fiber operation. Boswell died having successfully kept himself out of the public spotlight for most of his illustrious life. He was 86.
"A lot of people pride themselves on their anonymity, and I happen to be one," he said in an interview.
Boswell died Friday of natural causes at his Indian Wells home, according to the Riverside County Coroner's Office.
Under his leadership, J.G. Boswell Co. grew into one of the world's largest, privately owned farms. The company farms 150,000 acres of Pima cotton, tomatoes and other commodities on land mostly in Kings County in the San Joaquin Valley. The company headquarters is in Pasadena.
Boswell is credited with the phenonmenal growth enjoyed by the company - started by his father and uncles - while he was president and CEO from 1952 until 1984. According to business analyst Hoover's Inc., J.G. Boswell Co. is the largest producer of cotton in the United States, supplies textile mills worldwide and boasts sales topping $150 million annually.
Land he retired from farming in Arizona 40 years ago became what is known today as the retirement community of Sun City.
Boswell was born in Greensboro, Ga., in 1923, and his family moved to California as the boll-weevil descimated cotton plantations across the South. He received a bachelor's degree in economics from Stanford University in 1946 and served in the Army during World War II in the South Pacific.
A 2003 book about this life, "The King of California," calls him the last land baron of California. It chronicles the family's political clout that allowed them to drain the massive Tulare Lake, once the largest freshwater body West of the Mississippi, and plant cotton in the early 20th century.
After retiring from day-to-day operations in 1984, Boswell remained on the company's board of directors. His son, James W. Boswell, is the company's current chairman.
His family, following its patriarch's lead not to talk about his life or his privately held company, declined to comment upon Boswell's death. James Boswell simply said: "He had not been well."
In addition to his son, Boswell is survived by his wife, Barbara Wallace Boswell, and two daughters.
A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. April 22 at the Corcoran High School Memorial Stadium near the company's farming headquarters.
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