Longtime Harris Corp. Leader Brought
Vision, Generosity to University Board
MELBOURNE, FLA. — Phillip W. Farmer, the longtime member and two-time chairman of Florida Tech’s Board of Trustees whose guidance and generosity helped propel the university to the upper echelon of national research institutions, passed away Sunday.
Farmer was 80 years old.
“Without Phil Farmer, Florida Tech would undoubtedly be a lesser institution, and the many, many students whose lives he influenced would not be making their mark in the world today,” said Florida Tech President Dwayne McCay. “He made those around him better, which is the truest form of leadership, and his vision for Florida Tech, motivated by an unwavering belief that we were an outstanding university that could be truly exceptional, motivated all of us to strive for excellence.
“Mary Helen and I, and our entire campus community, will miss him terribly,” McCay said, “and we offer our deepest sympathies to Jeanne and the Farmer family.”
Farmer, who lived in Indialantic, started as vice president-general manager of Harris Corporation’s Government Support Systems Division in the Electronic Systems Sector in the early 1980s. His ascension at the Brevard County-based global technology innovator was steady, and he was elected executive vice president of Harris in 1991. He was elected president, chief operating officer, and a member of the Board of Directors at Harris in April 1993, and two years later was elected to the additional posts of chairman of the board and chief executive officer.
“Phil Farmer is the ideal choice for leading Harris Corporation into the 21st century. His vision and leadership skills have been amply demonstrated,” John Hartley, the man Farmer succeeded at Harris and himself an influential Florida Tech board member, said at the time. “I have every confidence in Phil’s ability to capitalize on the exciting opportunities available to Harris in the years ahead.”
Just as those two corporate elections would go on to help guide Harris toward even greater success, another move around that time would shape the future of another important Brevard County institution: Florida Tech. And the vision and leadership that Hartley so aptly ascribed to his successor would, to the university’s benefit, be on as full a display on that campus as it was on the Harris campus a few miles to the north.
In 1994, Farmer was named to the university’s Board of Trustees, the start of a nearly 25-year tenure that continued a remarkable partnership between Harris and Florida Tech that stretched back to Harris founders Homer Denius and George Shaw and included executives throughout the years, such as Hartley, Joe Boyd, Howard Lance and most recently, Chairman, President and CEO Bill Brown.
Throughout his time on the board, Farmer would serve twice as chairman – from January 2007 to April 2009 and January 2012 to January 2017 – and play a critical role in two successful fundraising campaigns that raised tens of millions of dollars for Florida Tech.
At the conclusion of the Golden Anniversary Campaign in September 2009, which Farmer chaired and which raised nearly $60 million – well beyond its $50 million goal – he spoke of the campaign’s positive impact on a group that mattered dearly to him: students.
“Students from all walks of life, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures and countries now have new opportunities to pursue their dreams of an education thanks to expanded scholarship funds,” he said. “Those seeking the latest in technology need look no further than the university’s enhanced physical resources. New faculty and new programs will give these students the means to pursue their educational ambitions and to succeed.”
As part of the campaign, Farmer demonstrated his personal commitment to students by funding a $1.5 million endowment to create the Farmer Scholars Program. The program provides a full, four-year scholarship awarded annually to a Florida resident and high school graduate who is among the top 5 percent of his or her class and demonstrates exceptional academic achievement and outstanding personal character.
It was one of many impactful gifts during Farmer’s time on the board, including several from Harris. A $5 million grant by the Harris Corporation Charitable Fund through the Community Foundation of Brevard helped create the Harris Center for Science and Engineering. Harris Village, the residence hall complex on the southern edge of campus, was dedicated in 2008, with one of the three buildings named for Farmer. And a $1 million gift from Harris helped fund the Harris Student Design Center.
Farmer received Florida Tech’s most prestigious award, the President’s Medal, at the 2008 fall commencement ceremony, where he was the speaker. The President’s Medal acknowledges individuals who have provided superior service, support and dedication to the university.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Indialantic. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to Florida Tech (www.fit.edu), the Health First Foundation (www.hf.org) or the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org).
Arrangements are being handled by Davis Seawinds Funeral Home in Melbourne.