Association Honorary Life Member Paul W. Meyer, retired F. Otto Haas Executive Director at the Morris Arboretum & Gardens in Philadelphia passed earlier this week. Arrangements are still being made. We will update this post as we receive information.
Paul’s influence on the public garden world will continue for generations, at Morris and beyond. Paul served on the Association Board from 1994-1996. He was a founder of the Association’s longest running program, the Plant Collections Network (originally North American Plant Collections Consortium). He received the Honorary Life Membership Award at the 2020 Conference.
The 2020 Honorary Life Award Video is below, followed by a statement from William Cullina, F. Otto Haas Executive Director, Morris Arboretum & Gardens. If you would like to add to this post, please email Marketing and Communications Manager Richard A. Doran.
From William Cullina, F. Otto Haas Executive Director, Morris Arboretum & Gardens
It would be no overstatement to say that during Paul’s 43-year tenure at the Morris, 28 years as its leader, he transformed a quiet garden on the edge of the city into a vibrant, world-class public institution that now welcomes more than 170,000 visitors per year.
Paul began his career as the Morris’s director of horticulture and curator, developing a keen understanding of its mission and day-to-day activities while deepening his appreciation of the power of public horticulture. During this time, he oversaw the clearing of overgrown sections of the garden and the renewal of the living collections through expeditions to China and Korea. In 1991 after a nationwide search, Paul was selected to become the Arboretum’s new director. He was chosen for his vision, talent, leadership, and charisma to inspire staff and donors to raise the Morris Arboretum to the level of beauty and inclusion that its founders, John and Lydia Morris envisioned.
Paul was a keen believer that research and education are foundational elements of the Morris’s mission. Under his direction, the Morris built its botanical staff and its reputation for regional floristic studies. Paul’s love of learning (and travel!) was evident in his 12 expeditions to countries such as China, Korea, Taiwan, Armenia, and the Republic of Georgia, where he collected plants to help increase genetic diversity, including plants that will grow in stressful urban conditions.
Paul was also passionate about inspiring future generations of public garden leaders. Paul and his wife, Debra (Debbie) Rodgers, personally endowed two funds at the Morris that have been supplemented by contributions from other individuals in his honor: The Paul Meyer and Debra L. Rodgers Study-Travel Endowment and the Paul Meyer and Debra L. Rodgers Historic Preservation Endowment Fund.
But Paul’s influence wasn’t just felt by those in Philadelphia. His groundbreaking work in horticulture has been recognized the world over. Most recently, in 2022, he was awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal, an international prize issued annually by the Royal Horticultural Society in Great Britain. First issued 152 years ago, the prize is awarded to “persons of any nationality who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement and improvement of the science and practice of horticulture.” It is widely considered to be the most prestigious honor for those in our profession. I think we can all agree that speaks to the far-reaching effect Paul has had on the world of horticulture.
Paul put his stamp on every inch of the Morris Arboretum & Gardens. From the carefully preserved historic features to the iconic visitor experiences and the curated and meticulously tended living collections, Paul’s love and commitment to the Morris is felt in every acre. We give Paul our deepest thanks for leaving us this beautiful, irreplaceable public garden. As his successor, I am proud and humbled to be able to walk in his footsteps.
From the Chestnut Hill Local – the neighborhood adjacent to Morris Arboretum.