Losing a Leader

June 11, 2002 - 12:04

With the passing of Paul Ecke Jr. the industry has lost much more than a poinsettia breeder.

By mid-morning Monday, May 13th I had received the same
forwarded E-mail a dozen times, as friends in the industry shared the sad news of
Paul Ecke Jr.’s passing. Diagnosed less than a year ago with pancreatic
cancer, Paul had been in pretty good health and kept a great attitude
throughout his “illness.” Just last November, at the OFA fall
meeting, he joked with me about the treatments he was trying and about his lack
of appetite. But, then again, those personally acquainted with Paul know that
this was pretty typical of him.

Referred to lovingly around the Ranch as P2, a quick way for
employees to distinguish Paul Junior from his son Paul III or P3, Paul had an
easy 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 he
seemed more like the guy next door.

Mr. Poinsettia

It is no exaggeration to say that the “Paul
Ecke” 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 is
credited with assembling the scientific, technical, administrative, production,
and distribution and marketing staffs and systems that transformed a small
family business into a floriculture leader. Not only did he help make
poinsettias the best-selling potted plant in the world, but throughout his
life, Paul and his staff have developed brilliant and sophisticated new colors
with once-unthinkable performance and quality, creating an annual industry of
approximately 65 million units.

Since his graduation from The Ohio State University in 1949
with a degree in horticulture, Paul Junior never paused in his quest for the
very finest poinsettias possible. He pioneered the use of greenhouses for
growing poinsettias — producing disease-free plants faster and better than
ever before. At the same time, Paul Junior spent countless hours and seemingly
limitless energy participating in — and leading — many local, state
and national floriculture associations. His commitment has been demonstrated
over and over with such groups as the Ohio Florists’ Association Short
Course, the California State Florists Association, the Society of American
Florists, the American Horticultural Society, the American Floral Endowment and
numerous universities, earning him a reputation as a leader with extraordinary
vision and foresight.

Along the way, Paul Ecke Ranch poinsettias have become
synonymous with Christmas, graced the stages of “The Today Show”
and “The Tonight Show,” and decorated the White House and the
Vatican.

From the Industry

Paul’s greatest legacy is probably the effect he had
on other people so the GPN editors thought it would be a fitting tribute if
some of Paul’s closest peers and friends honored him in their own words.

 

“What comes to my mind when I look back on
Paul’s career is what a phenomenal impact he had on not only our industry
but on American culture. Almost everyone buys a poinsettia at Christmas, and
Paul was the driving force behind establishing what has essentially become a
new custom in our country. There’s not many individuals who accomplish
that in their lifetime.”

Joel Goldsmith

Goldsmith Seeds, Gilroy, Calif. style='font-style:normal'>

 

“I have many fond memories of Paul — way too
many to do justice here, but one of my favorite is from many years ago when I
was a student and becoming aware of poinsettias. I was watching the Tonight
Show one evening. Bette Midler was a guest. When introduced, she came out, sat
down 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 was
hilarious. I’ve seen Paul use that picture in many talks to illustrate
the power of marketing. He loved it.”

Jim Barrett

GPN/University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla style='font-style:normal'>.

 

“Paul was one of those rare people who can be called a
legend in his own time. He not only brought new products and methods to the
industry, but also a passion for what he believed in. And to his credit, he was
able to share his vision in such a way that people embraced it. If you shared
his vision and passion, you had no alternative but to also embrace the man
himself. He’s left a legacy for all of us!”

Stan Pohmer

Pohmer Consulting Group, Minnetonka, Minn.

 

“I have known of Paul since my college days during the
1970s. At that time and beyond, many of us looked at Paul as larger than life
within our industry. It was not until years later that I realized Paul was a
man that would look you in the eye and carry on a conversation while taking a
sincere interest in what you might have to say. About two years ago, Paul took
the time to stop at our greenhouses on a trip to northern New Hampshire. You
might call it good business marketing on his part, but I still look at his
visit as an honor. The kid in me still brought the camera out for my picture
with Paul.”

Doug Cole

D.S. Cole Growers Inc., Loudon, N.H.

 

“The first time that I visited the Paul Ecke Ranch, I
was impressed by two things. One, the greenhouses and offices were incredibly
average. 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 the
staff. Companies reflect the personality of the individuals that provide the
leadership. Paul Junior built a company with a name that is synonymous with
quality and professionalism because those were the values that he held.”

Jim Faust

Clemson University, Clemson, S.C.

 

“Paul was a terrific mentor. I don’t know where
I would be personally or professionally without his influence. He truly made me
a better person and a better floriculturist, and he did that for lots of
people, and he did it because he wanted to, not because he wanted anything back
or even any kind of acknowledgement. He just had this way about him that made
you want to be involved; his enthusiasm for floriculture was contagious. And he
didn’t just say the words. He provided opportunities; he made things
happen. I hope some of us can carry that on.”

Terril Nell

University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.

 

“I remember as a ‘young’ person in this industry
being in awe of the Paul Ecke’s of the world...they seemed bigger than
life. As I matured and got to know and enjoy Paul Ecke, he was an extremely
approachable gentleman. I learned a lot from Paul during the time that I got to
spend with him, and I thoroughly enjoyed those times. Paul was a giant among
men. He gave so much to our Industry and to mankind in general. I will miss
Paul Ecke as will many others.”

Joe Boarini

Grande Greenhouse, Inc.

Ohio Florists’ Association, President style='font-style:normal'>

 

Paul Ecke Jr. is survived by his wife Maureen St. Croix
Ecke; three children, Paul Ecke III, Lizbeth Ecke and Sara Ecke May; seven
grandchildren; and an industry of friends and peers that love and will miss
him.

A memorial service was held Friday, May 17th at the Magdalena
Ecke YMCA in Encinitas. In tribute to Paul’s support of the floral
industry, the family has asked that well-wishers send flowers to someone they
love or that they make a donation to the Paul Ecke Jr. Fellowship Fund c/o the
American Floral Endowment.

About The Author

Bridget White is editor of GPN.

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