Losing a Leader
By mid-morning Monday, May 13th I had received the sameforwarded E-mail a dozen times, as friends in the industry shared the sad news ofPaul Ecke Jr.’s passing. Diagnosed less than a year ago with pancreaticcancer, Paul had been in pretty good health and kept a great attitudethroughout his “illness.” Just last November, at the OFA fallmeeting, he joked with me about the treatments he was trying and about his lackof appetite. But, then again, those personally acquainted with Paul know thatthis was pretty typical of him.
Referred to lovingly around the Ranch as P2, a quick way foremployees to distinguish Paul Junior from his son Paul III or P3, Paul had aneasy smile; an open, inviting personality; and a genuine desire to help others.He might have been one of the most influential people in horticulture, but heseemed more like the guy next door.
It is no exaggeration to say that the “PaulEcke” name is synonymous with poinsettias in every corner of the globe.Quite simply, Paul Ecke Jr. helped revolutionize the way poinsettias are bred,produced and sold. As president of the Ranch from 1963 to 1991, Paul Junior iscredited with assembling the scientific, technical, administrative, production,and distribution and marketing staffs and systems that transformed a smallfamily business into a floriculture leader. Not only did he help makepoinsettias the best-selling potted plant in the world, but throughout hislife, Paul and his staff have developed brilliant and sophisticated new colorswith once-unthinkable performance and quality, creating an annual industry ofapproximately 65 million units.
Since his graduation from The Ohio State University in 1949with a degree in horticulture, Paul Junior never paused in his quest for thevery finest poinsettias possible. He pioneered the use of greenhouses forgrowing poinsettias producing disease-free plants faster and better thanever before. At the same time, Paul Junior spent countless hours and seeminglylimitless energy participating in and leading many local, stateand national floriculture associations. His commitment has been demonstratedover and over with such groups as the Ohio Florists’ Association ShortCourse, the California State Florists Association, the Society of AmericanFlorists, the American Horticultural Society, the American Floral Endowment andnumerous universities, earning him a reputation as a leader with extraordinaryvision and foresight.
Along the way, Paul Ecke Ranch poinsettias have becomesynonymous with Christmas, graced the stages of “The Today Show”and “The Tonight Show,” and decorated the White House and theVatican.
From the Industry
Paul’s greatest legacy is probably the effect he hadon other people so the GPN editors thought it would be a fitting tribute ifsome of Paul’s closest peers and friends honored him in their own words.
“What comes to my mind when I look back onPaul’s career is what a phenomenal impact he had on not only our industrybut on American culture. Almost everyone buys a poinsettia at Christmas, andPaul was the driving force behind establishing what has essentially become anew custom in our country. There’s not many individuals who accomplishthat in their lifetime.”
Goldsmith Seeds, Gilroy, Calif.
“I have many fond memories of Paul way toomany to do justice here, but one of my favorite is from many years ago when Iwas a student and becoming aware of poinsettias. I was watching the TonightShow one evening. Bette Midler was a guest. When introduced, she came out, satdown on Johnny Carson’s desk and stuck a poinsettia branch in her bosom.After that, I don’t really remember what was said, but the scene washilarious. I’ve seen Paul use that picture in many talks to illustratethe power of marketing. He loved it.”
GPN/University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla
“Paul was one of those rare people who can be called alegend in his own time. He not only brought new products and methods to theindustry, but also a passion for what he believed in. And to his credit, he wasable to share his vision in such a way that people embraced it. If you sharedhis vision and passion, you had no alternative but to also embrace the manhimself. He’s left a legacy for all of us!”
Pohmer Consulting Group, Minnetonka, Minn.
“I have known of Paul since my college days during the1970s. At that time and beyond, many of us looked at Paul as larger than lifewithin our industry. It was not until years later that I realized Paul was aman that would look you in the eye and carry on a conversation while taking asincere interest in what you might have to say. About two years ago, Paul tookthe time to stop at our greenhouses on a trip to northern New Hampshire. Youmight call it good business marketing on his part, but I still look at hisvisit as an honor. The kid in me still brought the camera out for my picturewith Paul.”
D.S. Cole Growers Inc., Loudon, N.H.
“The first time that I visited the Paul Ecke Ranch, Iwas impressed by two things. One, the greenhouses and offices were incrediblyaverage. I expected the facilities to echo the stature of the company name and reputation.Secondly, I was really impressed by the quality and professionalism of thestaff. Companies reflect the personality of the individuals that provide theleadership. Paul Junior built a company with a name that is synonymous withquality and professionalism because those were the values that he held.”
Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.
“Paul was a terrific mentor. I don’t know whereI would be personally or professionally without his influence. He truly made mea better person and a better floriculturist, and he did that for lots ofpeople, and he did it because he wanted to, not because he wanted anything backor even any kind of acknowledgement. He just had this way about him that madeyou want to be involved; his enthusiasm for floriculture was contagious. And hedidn’t just say the words. He provided opportunities; he made thingshappen. I hope some of us can carry that on.”
University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.
“I remember as a ‘young’ person in this industrybeing in awe of the Paul Ecke’s of the world…they seemed bigger thanlife. As I matured and got to know and enjoy Paul Ecke, he was an extremelyapproachable gentleman. I learned a lot from Paul during the time that I got tospend with him, and I thoroughly enjoyed those times. Paul was a giant amongmen. He gave so much to our Industry and to mankind in general. I will missPaul Ecke as will many others.”
Grande Greenhouse, Inc.
Ohio Florists’ Association, President
Paul Ecke Jr. is survived by his wife Maureen St. CroixEcke; three children, Paul Ecke III, Lizbeth Ecke and Sara Ecke May; sevengrandchildren; and an industry of friends and peers that love and will misshim.
A memorial service was held Friday, May 17th at the MagdalenaEcke YMCA in Encinitas. In tribute to Paul’s support of the floralindustry, the family has asked that well-wishers send flowers to someone theylove or that they make a donation to the Paul Ecke Jr. Fellowship Fund c/o theAmerican Floral Endowment.