Wayne Sawyer, 59, died on Saturday, May 30, 2015. He was CEO and president of Bennett’s Creek Nursery and was active in the green industry. He served as a past president of Southern Nursery Association, and served on multiple boards over the years with Virginia Nursery Landscape Association and the former American Nursery & Landscape Association.
From the obituary printed in the Suffolk Daily Press: The family will welcome visitors on Friday, June 5th from 6-8 PM at Sturtevant Funeral Home, Bennetts Creek Chapel, 2690 Bridge Road, Suffolk, VA 23435. Wayne’s memorial service will be on Saturday, June 6 at 2 PM in Believers Church 4500 Peek Trail, Chesapeake, VA 23321. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Virginia Tech Foundation and designate to the Hahn Garden in memory of Wayne Sawyer; Gift Accounting, University Development (0336), 902 Prices Fork Road, Blacksburg, VA 24061, or the TowneBank Foundation; 6001 Harbor View Blvd., Suffolk, VA 23435. SturtevantFuneralHome.com
Here are some memories and tributes from those who knew him best:
From Art Parkerson, Lancaster Farms
Our two companies, Lancaster Farms and Bennett’s Creek, share a legacy of business done the right way. We are sort of like siblings, and rivals. We have wrestled together since birth.
Wayne Sawyer was tenacious, relentless. He was the best sort of competitor, the kind who’d bite and claw and fight like hell, but then—the moment the bell rang—he would be all smiles and high spirits and back slaps as he joined you for a cold beer at the bar.
Wayne once saved my company, when he could have easily looked the other way. We were both suffering through a severe drought, and we were running out of water for our crops. Wayne gave us water from his own pond. I will never forget his mercy towards us. He never hesitated. I do not know where I would be today if it were not for Wayne Sawyer’s generosity. It was the clearest proof to me that his heart was full of kindness, not hate.
Wayne was an astute and careful businessman. He paid attention to the small details. Wayne was always clean-cut and, well, pretty. He never had dirt on his knees or his boots. But it was clear he did not view any job as beneath him. When I’d go visit him, I’d often find him operating a loader. A few weeks ago I saw him driving down the road in a delivery truck! He would do whatever it took to serve his customers.
Wayne once gave me some advice that really nailed me. I had been talking about some sort of big idea—some elegant innovation—I can’t even remember what it was. He looked at me and he seemed to see straight through me. He said, “Art, you want to find million-dollar ideas, but you’re looking for the wrong thing. You need to find one-cent ideas.” He paused and flashed that Wayne Sawyer smile. “The pennies add up.”
His wisdom and leadership will be missed in our industry, and most certainly by Lancaster Farms.
From J. Guy
Aside from the great work SNA did for our industry, it also served as a foundation for life long relationships among its board members and their families. Wayne and I served together 4 years. During that time, Linda and I got married and Wayne and his family came to our wedding, where we had many family members as well as our extended family from the industry. At one point Wayne took me aside and said, ‘J, this is a who’s who of the horticultural industry in attendance.’ In front of me stood a successful nurseryman whose business was thriving and who had a beautiful family, yet Wayne remained humble in a group with his colleagues. I had to remind him that he was one of them!
He will certainly be missed by those who knew and loved him.
From Jim Crowell, Atlantic Garden Center
Wayne would visit my garden centers, from back in 1996 to the present, and give suggestions on inventory quality and quantity, displays and employees, etc. He was very genuine and loving with all of his comments.
In 1996, Wayne suggested I attend the former ANLA Management Clinic in Louisville and share a room with him. He introduced me to retail garden centers owners who were the most progressive, oftentimes at dinner with four to six others. Wayne and I would meet back in room around midnight and keep sharing and brainstorming until we could not stay awake any longer. During that first Clinic, I sat in on Ian Baldwin’s session with Joe Stoffregen from Homewood Nursery and Scott Longfellow, who owns Longfellow Greenhouses in Maine. The next year, I hired Ian as a consultant and then went on five of his tours of garden centers in England over the next nine years.
If not for Wayne’s invitation to Clinic, I doubt if my garden center life would have been the same.
He also invited me years later, when he was on the SNA board for three years, to help him to set up and run the trade show as a red shirt. I loved helping and learned more about our industry during those years, which I am sure Wayne realized more than I. He knew how to lead and was one of a kind.
From Danny and Karen Summers, Southern Nursery Association
First, along serving on the SNA Board for a total of 6 years and President in 2005, he also was a recipient of SNA’s David E. Laird, Sr. Award, received in 1988 as Young Professional of the Year.
Wayne was a committed supporter and volunteer of our associations. He was very involved in the VNLA, in MANTS and SNA. He gave of his time and his resources to help the industry, all the while positioning Bennett’s Creek Nursery in a unique position as a producer.
Wayne was a professional, detailed person. He was polished, articulate, and meaningful in what he did. You can see these traits today passed on through his son Matt and his employees. It is in the culture that is Bennett’s Creek today.
At the core of Wayne’s career is another of VNLA and SNA’s leaders who certainly had a big influence on Wayne’s development… Art Lancaster (SNA President in 1969). Art, and his wife Millie, were mentors to Wayne at an early age along with neighbor nurseryman, Charlie Parkerson. In fact, Wayne and Charlie fully funded a named scholarship for Art & Mille Lancaster in SNA’s Sidney B. Meadows Scholarship Endowment Fund. That scholarship is awarded annually. Both Bennett’s Creek and Lancaster Farms has consistently sponsored the Bryson L. James Student Research Competition during the annual SNA Research Conference.
Loosing Wayne at this stage of his life should make us all realize that every day is gift, that we should take full advantage of each day’s opportunities and do our best to make a real difference each day.
We will certainly miss Wayne Sawyer and value highly the contributions he gave to our industry.
From Joe Stoffregen, Homewood Nursery & Garden Center
Wayne was a man of great faith and integrity and represented our industry so well. He willingly gave countless hours of service at board meetings on every level of the nursery industry. A good man who will be greatly missed.