MCMINN COUNTY (WVLT) – It’s nearly impossible to miss Mayfield Dairy’s opaque yellow milk jugs and ice cream boxes in your grocer's dairy case. Thomas Mayfield III always maintained he came up with the eye catching containers because the color yellow helps block ultraviolet rays, the spectrum of light that can quickly spoil fresh products.
The flag in front of the Mayfield Dairy plant in Athens was flown at half staff over the weekend. On Saturday, Mayfield III passed away at the age of 88, following a long battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“We're going to miss him terribly but he was suffering and he was ready to go," Regenia Mayfield, his widow.
Mayfield III served as president of the company for several decades, overseeing the company’s expansion into one of the south’s largest dairy’s. According to those close to him, he was a true entrepreneur who helped introduce change and technological innovations to the dairy industry.
“He saw the change from glass bottles to paper cartons and then over to plastic bottles," said Robert Mayfield, his son and current vice president of the company.
Mayfield III was born and raised on the farm his father started in 1910 with only 45 jersey cows. After high school he attended Tennessee Wesleyan College and then the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he studied Dairy Science. When the United States entered World War II he enlisted in military, serving as a naval aviator and flight instructor.
After the war he returned to East Tennessee and decided join his father and brother at the dairy.
"He was proud of his family and we're all proud of him,” said his widow.
Mayfield III and his brother Scott took a larger role in the company throughout the rest of the 1940’s, and in 1950, they opened the most modern dairy plant in the southeast. Family members said he was fully committed to turning Mayfield Dairy into the best in the nation. He knew each bolt and screw in the plant and purchased every piece of equipment in the building.
"He never took off a week,” said his son, “it was always three or four days. Then he would have to get back to take care of business."
Under his leadership, the company experienced tremendous growth. Mayfield grew from 50 employees to 500. He also pioneered the vacuum heat process to improve the taste of dairy products. Then he introduced the company’s trademark yellow packaging.
"He was always at the forefront of packaging processing technology.”
While running the company, Mayfield III also became a leader with several diary-related non-profit organizations. They included the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers, Southern Association of Dairy Food Manufactures, and Tennessee Dairy Products Association. He served in leadership roles with the Tennessee Association of Business, Mayfield Realty Company, INC, and the First National Bank of McMinn County.
When he retired as president in 1990, Mayfield was one of the nations largest family owned dairies with annual sales near $110 million. That year, Dean Foods purchased Mayfield to expand its dairy line of products.
In retirement, he became an avid fisher, continued his life long passion of flying, and traveled all over the world.
Mayfield III lived out his last days at Morning Pointe of Athens, about two miles away from the Mayfield Dairy Farm.
"He was ready to go,” said his widow. “He lived a wonderful life and he got to do almost everything he wanted to do."
Though the diary is no longer owned by the family, it is still run by Mayfield’s. Mayfield III’s nephew Scottie serves as president, and his son Rob is the vice president. Rob said they are continuing to carry on the Mayfield tradition of hard work and integrity that his father worked so hard to preserve.
Funeral arrangements for Thomas B. Mayfield III are as follows:
Monday, October 27th:
-5:00 to 7:00 PM – The family will receive friends at the Jerry Smith Funeral Home, located at 1010 S. White Street in Athens.
Tuesday, October 28th:
-11:00 AM - Funeral services will be held at the Keith Memorial United Methodist Church, located at 600 W. Madison Avenue in Athens.
-2:00 PM - Graveside service will be conducted at the Cedar Grove Cemetery, located on S. Hill Street in Athens.