Wednesday, March 13, 2024

In Memory of Gene Whitmer                                                                                          

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. 

Gene was my webmaster, partner, mentor and friend

Nov 6th, 1942- 2024 (81)

Gene was born in a small town in eastern Oklahoma. He spent his youth riding back and forth to California with his parents. His father had a small farm and he would go to California to work to put together enough money to plant another wheat crop. Gene attended college at the University of Utah. After college, he signed up for the Peace Corp and was stationed in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil in the 1960’s. Gene was from the generation that listened to John F. Kennedy. “Ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country”. 

After the Peace Corp, he got a job as a production manager at Johnson Wax in Rio de Janeiro. While living the good life in Rio, his draft number came up for the Vietnam War. He was stationed in Panama as a medic. He protected the “Americas” from the “Commies”, he would say with a chuckle. He took a job with the USAID and was stationed in Vietnam writing reports for the USA government and the CIA to gather intel on the situation. I think this is where Gene gave up on humanity. He would often say “We are all doomed”. He experienced so much death, suffering, deception, and “lack of a plan”. He and a buddy escaped Vietnam to Bangkok two days before the fall of Saigon. They watched it all unfold on TV while sitting in a bar in Thailand. 

Gene then took a job teaching English in Saudi Arabia. Later, he was an English professor at the University of Oklahoma. He met Zelia, Brazilian wife, and in 1986 moved to Goiania where he has lived ever since. Gene set up an office helping Brazilian students with their English. He would get them placed in USA universities. He would take great pride helping someone else succeed in life. 

Gene was a bit of a computer programmer/web designer and in the 1990’s set up a site called “Studyintl”. This worked well until Sept 11th, 2001. This is when his business started to retrograde with all the new restrictions for entry to the USA. 

Along comes Kory

I had been in Brazil for a couple years as a young father and trying to find my place. In 2005, via "Yahoo community boards”, we find one another as two gringo’s in Goiania. We would meet for drinks at Piquerias once a month and solve all the world’s problems. He was impressed with my knowledge of Brazil ag and all my adventures to date. He said, “Kory, you should start a blog”. What is a blog, I asked? 

Creativity is born out of necessity

We decided to try transfer his number one google ranked site from Studyintl to Brazilintl. We would upload content and photos of my adventures and create a Brazil “Wikipedia” for Ag. I would publish a newsletter and do tours for clients, students, journalists, and investors. 

Gene would handle all the website details and Kory would hit the road. We would meet for monthly pow-wows and butt heads on the future of the site and Brazil. He would suggest what needs to be changed, how I could improve, and where my weaknesses lie. His 30 year experience with Brazil was an invaluable resource as to how to deal with Brasilians, situations, relationships, and the culture. 

As I advanced, I could be of more and more value to new clients. I could see where they were making mistakes and advise them ahead of time assuming they would listen. 

He would often say, Kory, you are getting too comfortable. You are living the good life. Do not drop the ball here- inflation will eat you up in Brazil. You need to stay ahead of the curve, or when you least expect it, Brazil will change and eat you alive. Case in point, many of my gringo colleagues experienced this and are no longer in Brazil.

“Wealth is not an indicator of intelligence” Gene Whitmer

Gene had witnessed countless gringo stories and was an avid reader of history. He would give me his books on Brazil pioneers for my son and I to read. He would say- “just look at Henry Ford in the Amazon” or Olacyr de Moraes(Brazilian), the original soybean king in the 1970’s - he wanted to build his own railroad. Common theme, great ideas - failure to execute. I would often tell clients at the airport - “Check your ego at customs”, or Brazil will take it from you. “Stop thinking like a gringo”, you are under new house rules here. 

I look back at Gene’s 60 year arc of Brazil experience. How valuable that was to a newcomer. Gene never did anything for himself. He wanted to enjoy the good life and have the least amount of stress as possible. With that said, he would criticize newcomers to Brazil that they have no clue of what they are about to get into. 

I think back to Gene’s early Peace Corp days. This was to help developing countries with education, civil planning, health care, and indirectly keep the commies out because the USA is here to help. It was to help develop jobs and opportunities for the locals. One could say the Peace Corps had its place, but it really did not do that much. It takes the entrepreneur to take an idea to the next level. It takes venture capital to build the infrastructure. In later years, I would tell Gene: I think indirectly, you helped create thousands of jobs in Brazil. If it were not for us, the site, and the personal relationships developed- I do not think current  gringo clients, that have invested upwards of US$ 1 billion dollars in Mato Grosso in corn ethanol, would have ever happened. Corn ethanol would have likely evolved, but it would have been with different faces in different places. One needs to give those gringos credit for their ability to execute a plan. So many others before them have failed with their endeavors. I think you can take a little credit Gene that we did something good for Brazil. When you look over the span of 60 years, I think you could say we co-participated in the Brazil/Mato Grosso arc of AG history. We made a positive difference- even if it was in a small indirect way. Well done Gene. Thank you Kory- was his response.

RIP webmaster, mentor, partner and friend.