Remembering Chief Redsneaks And Appreciating Each Day [Opinion]

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I am in a somewhat pensive mood today. We need only to watch the news or read the paper to see that there are lots of bad things going on in the world and realize bad things can happen to good people.

But the fact is, there are many more good people than bad, and many more positive events than negative. This is not simply a rose-colored glasses view. We need only to watch the news a little longer or read the paper all the way through.

The workplace may have its downsides, but most of us would rather be doing what we are doing than anything else. The people we work with, well, yes — there are yahoos out there, to be sure, but most are pretty good people. All in all, a pleasant bunch. And good grief, if you are fortunate to be loved by someone, life is indeed good — perhaps rocky, but good.

Heroes Come And Go
Those who have read me over the years know one of my heroes is Yogi Berra, not for his baseball skills, but for his perpetually optimistic outlook on life, as well as his unique turn-of-phrase.

His quote, “When the road forks, take it,” is one I share with my students every year. And how can you question the wisdom of, “That restaurant is so crowded nobody goes there anymore.” All of us have people who make us think and smile, and smile when we think of them.

Occasionally, I also remember Jimmy Valvano, who coached the North Carolina State men’s basketball team during several winning seasons. His tears of joy and his manic expression of happiness when his team won the 1983 NCAA basketball championship are aired every March. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1992 and was presented the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award just before his death in 1993. He knew he was soon to pass away, and everything he said that night came from the heart. In his talk, he said the following:

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

I think of those words often, and try my best to have a heck of a day.

Chief Red Sneaks: An Everyday Hero

I never met Mr. Valvano, but I did know someone who could have uttered those very words, and certainly was the embodiment of them. Anyone who knew Ed Markham would agree. Ed was part of American horticulture for years, working with Vaughan’s Seed and Harris Moran Seed, consulting for numerous others and much involved in the establishment of Western Horticultural Products.

Honoring Chief Red Sneaks
Friends of Ed Markham may honor him by donating to the charity of their choice or to the American Floral Endowment, Markham-Colegrave International Scholarship, 1601 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. Learn more at Endowment.org.

Ed also provided guidance and advice for anyone along the way. He never retired and he was a fixture at industry gatherings and trade shows, often with a gaggle of young people (like me) listening to his stories, learning from and admiring him. Ed would always make us laugh, and we would walk away thinking about the people, places and stories Ed shared.

Of course, it was hard to miss Ed at these gatherings as he would round a corner wearing awful, bright-red running shoes. He likely had a dozen pair of these and because of them, he was affectionately known as “Chief Red Sneaks.” He was one of the truly good guys of horticulture.

Ed passed away on July 9th at age 94. He would never have said he was important, or that he left behind a legacy — he was too modest. But he was and he did — I am one of them.

When people like Ed leave us, it befits us to take a minute or two to look back at our colleagues who helped us along the path we chose. A minute or so will not be missed in a busy day — to laugh, think and perhaps cry a little.     GG

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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