Gil Henry, whose business innovations included ripening rooms for the avocado industry, died May 18. The longtime partner in Escondido, Calif.-based Henry Avocado Corp. was 88.
“Gil built the first forced-air ripening room for avocados here at Henry Avocado in 1983,” said Phil Henry, his cousin and company president.
Gil Henry collaborated with Vic Tokar on that first room. Today the company has 54.
He was named Charles Henry — for his father — but was always known by his nickname Gil. His parents started their Escondido ranch in 1925. After an Army stint in World War II, Gil Henry joined their efforts to expand the business, for one by starting deliveries to Los Angeles.
His father died in 1953 in a tractor accident. Gil Henry later became partners with his brother Warren Henry and cousin George Schoeffel.
“Gil got involved in planting the hass variety in the 1950s,” Phil Henry said. “The fuerte was the dominant variety then, but Gil and Warren believed the hass was a better producer, so they started planting groves in hass and actually converting fuerte groves into hass by grafting.”
Gil Henry was among the growers who in the late 1950s and early 1960s pushed to create the California Avocado Advisory Board, a precursor to the California Avocado Commission. Ralph Pinkerton was hired to head the board and its marketing efforts.
Ripening rooms were the next breakthrough, but Henry and Tokar faced commercial as well as technological obstacles in the 1980s.
“They got the technical part down, but then it took convincing the retailers to start using ripe avocados,” Phil Henry said. “At the time, to sell an avocado that was breaking at all, it had to be discounted. It was dramatically different then from what it is today.
“He started working with various retailers to try to get them to use ripe avocados so that they could sell fresher avocados that arrived to them ripened. They didn’t have to be in the storage business anymore. They could move fresher fruit faster. Sales increased dramatically.”
“His way of management was very inspirational,” Henry said. “He guided but he didn’t guide with a heavy hand.”