Preserving a family’s storied legacy

Greg Nelson

The offices of Bernard Egan & Company pay tribute to the legacy of Bernard Egan, who led the company for more than half a century. Today, the company is run by Egan’s stepson, Greg Nelson. GREGORY ENNS

When we met Greg Nelson a few months ago, we had to persuade him to let us profile the company he heads, Bernard Egan & Co., a fixture in the Florida citrus industry for more than a century. Although initially hesitant, Greg agreed to a story thanks to the persuasive powers of our writer, Bernie Woodall.

It’s the kind of story we like to tell, especially when so many intergenerational businesses are vanishing.

As Bernie relays, the story starts with the founding of Egan, Fickett & Co. in 1914 by Joseph Egan and another partner. Joseph’s son Bernard joins the company, eventually takes it over and buys out other relatives and moves the company to Florida, where the company had been shipping fruit almost since its inception. 

Egan had four children and his heir apparent, son Michael Joseph, died of cancer in December 1979. Greg Nelson, Bernard’s stepson, had embarked on a legal career but he couldn’t refuse when his stepfather in the 1980s asked him if he wanted to join the family business. Greg was one of seven children of divorced single mom Betty Nelson, who married Egan in 1971.

Nelson has been at the helm of Bernard Egan & Co. in good times and bad. He has seen the company through its highest sales years while also weathering diseases such as canker and greening, freezes, hurricanes and campaigns against the health benefits of grapefruit.

Through it all, the legacy of Bernard lives on through the company that bears his name, the Bernard Egan Foundation that benefits charities and also through his children and stepchildren. Daughter Patricia Egan has researched much of the company and family history while stepdaughter Anne Sinnott has preserved and organized many of his personal documents, all for the man they affectionately refer to as Pop. During a visit to the cavernous Bernard Egan & Co. headquarters near Harbortown Marina in Fort Pierce, you almost expect Bernard Egan to show up around the corner.

He isn’t there, of course, but his legacy certainly is.

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