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Jeff Lester, former president of Lester Distributing Co., died at 57

by Rand Green | December 22, 2011
Jeff Lester in a young cherry orchard adjacent to the farmhouse southeast of Fresno, CA, that served as the offices of Lester Distributing.

Jeffrey (Jeff) Charles Lester, former president of Lester Distributing Co. in Fresno, CA, and a grower of plums, cherries and grapes, died at his home in Clovis, CA, Sunday, Dec. 18, two months after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 57.

Born Oct. 9, 1954, in Evergreen Park, IL, Mr. Lester and his family moved to Fresno when he was five years old. He graduated from California State University-Fresno in 1976 with a degree in agricultural science and began working with his father, Donald (Don) C. Lester, at Lester Distributing, a newly formed company marketing California grapes and stone fruit worldwide.

"When Don opened his own company" in 1977, "Jeff was there from the beginning," said Maurice (Mo) Cameron, current managing partner of The Flavor Tree Fruit Company LLC, who worked at Lester Distributing for many years, beginning right out of college in 1985.

"Jeffrey Charles Lester was a unique person in the produce industry, one of the characters that makes our industry so great," said Mr. Cameron in a written statement to The Produce News. "Jeff had such a strong personality and was a perfectionist in social skills; he knew how to make everyone feel at ease in almost any situation. Both Jeff and his dad did business impeccably; the business was aggressive but honest, and it was always an honor to be associated with the family."

After Mr. Lester's father died in 1993, Jeff became president at Lester Distributing. His mother, Bonna Lester, had worked at the company from its inception and continued to do so. "I worked with him until we closed the office. That was just last year," she said.

Mr. Lester was an avid outdoorsman. "He loved the outdoors" and "did a lot of fishing and hunting," his mother said. He also loved to build things and was "a builder at heart," having recently added on to his vacation cabin in the Sierra Mountains, doing most of the work himself. He could "fix anything," she said.

Mr. Lester was known for being as impeccable and meticulous in his personal appearance, in the way he farmed and in the way he maintained his personal property -- including the landscaping around his Clovis home -- as he was in the way he conducted business, and he took great pride in being that way. On one occasion, when giving a friend directions to his home, he said, "It will be the place that looks the way you would expect my place to look."

"He was just a great, fun guy, full of energy all the time," said Abe Weibe, a close friend.

Mr. Lester is survived by his wife, Elizabeth (Liz) Lester; four children; and by his mother.