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The Many Hats of Sonny Perdue
Many people in agriculture wear several hats. Farmers are often agronomists, mechanics, and marketers, all while juggling family roles. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is no different. In addition to his job leading the USDA, Perdue has several other interesting roles.
Secretary Perdue credits his work ethic to his youth on the family farm in Georgia. “I get up early and I stay up late,” he says.
The Agriculture Secretary is a proud Georgia football fan. After playing quarterback in high school, Perdue walked on at the University of Georgia.
“I’m an outdoorsman from a hunting and fishing perspective,” Perdue explains.
Paintings of wildlife scenes and a couple of trophy animals are on display in his offices.
Secretary Perdue served in the Air Force from 1971 to 1974. He rose to the rank of captain.
“I enjoy flying,” Perdue says. He still maintains his licenses and explains, “It is a skill set that keeps me mentally sharp. I’ve got to stay on top of it every two years.”
In 1971, Perdue graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
Although he no longer has a veterinary practice, Press Secretary Meghan Rodgers says Perdue always makes time to pet and hold animals he encounters as he travels.
Few people know that Perdue played the role of the East Carolina football coach in the movie, We Are Marshall.
“It was fun. I tried not to overshadow Matthew McConaughey,” the secretary jokes.
Perdue advanced in his political career as a Georgia state senator before serving two terms as the state’s governor.
When asked about his time as a foster parent, he credits his wife, Mary. “She’s the baby whisperer extraordinaire,” he says with a warm smile. “Just loves little ones. We are pro-life supporters who believe we should give an opportunity for people to have their baby and an opportunity for that baby to have a new life. We were fostering newborns awaiting adoption. It was a very special part of our life and, in particular, our children’s lives. They saw that we could give outside of our immediate family, and they began to have that heart. In fact, I am very proud of the fact one of our daughters does the same thing now.”
Being Big Buddy to 14 grandchildren is probably the Agriculture Secretary’s proudest title, Personal Assistant Taylor Crowe says.
“When my oldest daughter told us she was pregnant, I would ask how Little Buddy was coming along. That was my affectionate name for the in utero grandchild,” Perdue smiles. “So it was Little Buddy and Big Buddy. I didn’t think about or imagine 19-year-old granddaughters calling me Big Buddy. But it’s pretty special to have those 19-year-old blonde girls, sophomores in college, still come up and say, ‘I love you, Big Buddy.’ ”
Since 2017, Perdue has visited 48 U.S. states, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Many states have been crossed off the list as part of four Back to Our Roots Road Trips the Agriculture Secretary has completed.
“This tour is another great chance to escape Washington and meet face to face with America’s farmers, ranchers, producers, and foresters,” Secretary Perdue said when the fourth trip was announced. “We want to take our message directly to the American people and give them an opportunity to express their ideas and concerns.”
While on the road trip, Perdue preferred to prioritize spending time with farmers and agribusiness leaders, so meals were often eaten on-the-go. Chick-Fil-A is his favorite.
The team who travels with Perdue says he is a low-maintenance traveler, staying in average hotels like Holiday Inn and Marriot.
When flying, the Agriculture Secretary prefers an aisle seat, but he rides in coach just like most people.
“He gets miles, but we fly commercial flights just like everybody else,” Rodgers explains. The team suffers from the same travel woes that plague most frequent fliers. They deal with canceled and delayed flights, too.
In addition to his domestic trips, Perdue has visited China, Europe, South America, Mexico, and Canada in his official capacities.
Perdue takes pride in his extensive necktie collection and often coordinates his outfit based on his meetings and travels. “He is definitely a tie guy,” Rodgers says.
Perdue bartered with Personal Assistant Crowe for a watermelon tie to complete his collection representing all U.S. agriculture commodities.