ABINGDON, Va. — Robert E. “Bob” Foster’s relationship with the cattle industry started in his childhood and led to his inclusion this year in the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame.
“I never thought as a young boy in Damascus, Virginia, rounding up cattle, running bare footed, dodging running briers, that I would have this honor,” the 94-year-old Foster said.
He was recognized as the beef cattle segment of the industry inductee to the Hall of Fame. An induction ceremony could not be held due to pandemic restrictions. Portraits of the inductees are now hanging in the Alphine-Stuart Livestock Center at Virginia Tech.
“Bob Foster has had a monumental impact on the Virginia cattle industry through his long-time buyer activity, support and promotion of Virginia feeder cattle,” according to the nomination. “He helped to shape the cattle industry not only in the Commonwealth, but across the country, making Virginia cattle become a household name in the nation’s beef industry.”
Bob Foster, who falls into a vulnerable category in the COVID-19 era, conveyed his thoughts and history through his son, Butch Foster, who followed in his dad’s footsteps. Butch has worked marketing cattle from the Virginia Cattleman’s Association for the past 21 years.
Butch said his father went to work at the age of 17 hauling cattle to Lancaster, Pa.
In the 1940s he and B.C. Umberger, a man well-known in the southwest Virginia cattle business for many years, owned truck together. They hauled mostly veal calves at that time.
Things changed when Bob’s truck broke down. As Butch related, Bob called Umberger, told him what had happened and sold him the truck. He was then out of the cattle hauling business.
Bob became the main buyer for Valley Dale Packers, a well-known Virginia meat processing business in the last half of the 20th century. It was then headquartered in Bristol. He visited five livestock auction barns per week buying livestock for the company for 10 years.
Bob decided to go out on his own in 1960, buying cows for Swift Company and Pioneer Boneless beef in Georgia.
The 1970s found Bob running the Tri-State Livestock Market in Abingdon. At that time the market was owned by Umberger and Larry Sykes, another livestock marketing leader.
In 1975, Bob and Sykes became partners, buying feeder cattle in Virginia and sending them to Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nebraska.
“He was a big supporter of the Virginia graded sales and tel-o-auctions,” Butch said of his dad.
After the Sykes’ death, Bob continued to buy feeder cattle, sending them mostly to Michigan and Nebraska.
These states continue to be sustainable destinations for the state’s calves.
Bob has continued to follow his interest in the marketing of Virginia cattle.
Until the last three or four years he rode with Butch as he made his rounds as VCA field manager, He shared stories of the past with his son as they crisscrossed the state.