Floriculture industry members were saddened and shocked to learn Ecke Ranch’s Jack Williams died at age 54 in Australia over the weekend. For 26 years, Williams has been the face of Ecke Ranch, helping growers all over the world produce poinsettias and spring annuals. He also was a big part of educational programming at OFA and a past board member.
Following an autopsy, the coroner in Australia determined the cause of death was a Deep Vein Thrombosis that was catastrophic and irreversible. Williams is survived by his wife, Cheryl, and children, Bethany and Stephen, in Encinitas, Calif. Ecke Ranch’s President Andy Higgins says Williams spent last week in Japan and had just arrived in Australia, when he died Monday morning there, which was Sunday in the United States. As a technical specialist for Ecke Ranch and Ecke Europe, Williams visited greenhouses and trial sites throughout the world to evaluate crops, production systems and assess needs for these markets and Ecke Ranch. His focus included not only the poinsettias Ecke Ranch is famous for but all the annual bedding plants, geraniums, kalanchoe and other vegetative annual crops produced and sold by the Ecke companies.
In addition to working with product development, production and the sales and marketing groups for new plant introductions, Williams supported these crops through technical support in the form of production documents, magazine articles, crop production books and grower seminars. Williams also was a regularly featured author in consumer press and a frequent guest on various radio and television programs targeted to home gardeners.
Williams and Paul Ecke III were classmates at Colorado State University, where Williams earned his bachelor of science degree in horticulture/floriculture in 1979. “He was always a much better student than I!” Ecke says. “He was a lucky man, because he had amazing passion and creativity for his job and was literally a ‘rock star’ out in the industry. And he was so proud of his family. Everyone loved Jack.”
He traveled to Asia, Africa, India and Europe, and all around the Americas, Ecke adds. “Everyone knew Jack would be the guy who could help them be successful. He was a huge contributor for Ecke Ranch. Our hearts are going out to his family, and we in the Ecke Ranch family are devastated by this very unexpected news. He will be missed terribly but I know he would have wanted us to carry on and continue to share the beauty of plants and flowers with the world.”
One of his best friends, Lloyd Traven at Peace Tree Farm in Pennsylvania, says, “One of the things that really got to us today was it being poinsettia season, plus we had made plans to get together during the OFA meetings in Columbus this weekend. I had spoken to him last week about doing a whole bunch of new items and shapes, including a poinsettia wreath. We have new people working for us who never grew poinsettias. I reached for the poinsettia manual and a picture fell out from when he turned 50 and there was a contest to find all the pictures at Short Course. He was sitting in a beach chair with a dunce hat and it said, ‘Still Nifty At Fifty.'”
OFA’s Steve Carver says Williams was an enthusiastic influence guiding educational programming at Short Course. “He wanted to create sessions that were interactive in nature that directly addressed growers’ needs,” Carver says. “He would have attendees pull information from him and session presenters. He always wanted to have the best of the best speakers on the program and integrate new talent, for the good of the industry and to keep the program fresh and inviting. Jack also was the consummate facilitator, diplomatically knowing how to redirect when redirection was needed.”
One tradition Carver and the OFA crew always looked forward to was ending the California Spring Trials trip over dinner with Williams. “We’d pick his brain and talk about the industry and its challenges and sit in awe as he shared observations. Frank Zaunscherb recently took a picture of Jack with a butterfly, which I feel was very fitting. Like a butterfly, Jack’s life was bright, beautiful, exciting and way too short.”
Many have been inquiring about funeral services. Ecke’s Higgins says he thinks it will be at least 10 days away, because Williams still needs to be transported back from Australia. We will present the details as soon as we know on GreenhouseGrower.com.