David J. Elliot Jr., a Courtland farmer and patriarch of a family business that has raised Bartlett pears in the Sacramento River Delta for six generations, died Sunday of complications related to pneumonia and kidney failure, his family said. He was 79.
Mr. Elliot was a descendant of David Osborn of Stillwater, Nova Scotia, who arrived in California during the Gold Rush. Instead of seeking his fortune in the gold mines, the Canadian immigrant settled on the banks of the Sacramento River and planted pear trees imported from France in the fertile Delta soil in 1860.
The family business that started as Stillwater Orchards became David J. Elliot & Sons, a partnership formed by Mr. Elliot and his father in 1951. The younger Mr. Elliot also led efforts to diversify into other pear varieties, apples, cherries and kiwis.
"He was a visionary in the industry," said his son, Richard.
Mr. Elliot helped prepare his children and grandchildren to keep the business going. He was involved in rebuying parcels on Sutter Island that were part of the original family ranch. He also invested in technology, including an expanded cold storage facility.
"David was a really good businessman and a very smart farmer," said Peter Raffetto, former president of River City Bank. "He lived the business."
David James Elliot Jr. was born in 1931 in Courtland to Frances and David Elliot Sr.He graduated from Menlo School in Atherton in 1949 and enrolled at UC Davis. He left his agriculture studies to join the Air Force and served in French Morocco during the Korean War.
He raised four children with his wife of 58 years, Bonnie. He was predeceased by a son, David III, in 2005.
An active outdoorsman, Mr. Elliot enjoyed boating, hunting and fishing. He was a board member of the River Delta Unified School District.
He held leadership roles in industry groups, including the California Pear Growers, California Pear Advisory Board and the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.
"He was so well respected," league president Barry Bedwell said. "He was a man of impeccable integrity."
Despite the hard work and challenges of farming, Mr. Elliot felt an obligation to his family's business. He viewed his role as a steward rather than an owner, and he remained involved in daily meetings about the operation after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, his son said.
"It's not ours to sell," Richard Elliot said. "It's been around so long that the only thing we can do is keep it viable and growing. That's what he instilled in us."