A Legend Dies

Sad news for many of us in the horticulture community came when we heard Dr. Cathey had passed away recently. AHS is hosting their annual Dr. Cathey Day this Thursday and it will be an especially poignant event this year, coming so close on the heels of his death. He was one of my first interview subjects for the magazine and was a most gracious subject. For it, I had gathered quotes about him from some of his hort industry colleagues. I know he was very pleased when he read them and so I thought I'd share a good bit from the interview and some of those tribute quotes here. You can read the full article on pages 14-15 of our July/Aug 2005 issue of Washington Gardener magazine.

Dr. Henry M. (Marc) Cathey is an internationally honored horticultural scientist. If you’ve ever put a plant in your garden, you’ve been touched by Dr. Cathey’s work.

Dr. Cathey was born in Statesville, NC. He was in the 4-H and inherited his intense interest in plants from his grandmother. His enthusiasm led him to his bachelor’s degree from N.C. State in 1950, and to master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell. He studied in the Netherlands as a Fulbright Scholar and joined the USDA as a research horticulturalist in 1956-1980. His studies of light, chemical and temperature interrelations led to industry and consumer guidelines on how to use light and chemicals to control the size, shape, color and flowering of a large number of ornamental plants.

He served as professor of Plant Physiology at George Washington University from 1958 to 1967. In 1981, Cathey became the fourth director of the U.S. National Arboretum. While there, he was instrumental in the development of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, one of the most valuable tools available to gardeners today. He also oversaw the addition of many new features to the Arboretum including the Capitol Columns (see related story in this issue), the Asian Valley, and the restoration of the Brickyards on New York Avenue.

From 1991-1993, he served as National Chair for Florist and Nursery Crops Review, USDA. He has assessed the research, marketing, and export potentials for the green industries. He formed a coalition of over 60 national trade and professional organizations, created a directory of over 1,000 scientists, and held 15 convocations in the U.S. and England.To promote the ease of gardening, he has appeared on numerous television and radio programs. Currently he is a commentator on National Public Radio. He gives regular talks at gardens up and down the East Coast, and has received many industry awards and is one of the most widely published authors in the industry.

Cathey was president of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) from 1974 to 1978 and from 1993 to 1997. In his honor, the society created the H. Marc Cathey Medal for research in horticulture. He was President Emeritus at AHS until his retirement.

"Dr. Cathey has been ‘Uncle Marc’ to many young people over the years and has inspired these folks to become professional horticulturists or at least very devoted amateurs. Sometimes Marc’s reach has exceeded his direct contact, and I am a case in point. I knew of Marc Cathey long before I ever met him, as a very good friend of mine frequently confessed to hearing Dr. Cathey give presentations about horticulture at several gatherings while growing up. As I was raised in Baltimore and had parents both in the medical field, I’m guessing my friend just assumed that I must have been influenced to go into horticulture as was he, by hearing a talk from Dr. Cathey, who worked in Beltsville, MD, at the time. Though this was not the case, hearing my friend talk of Dr. Cathey’s speeches, as if he had been to a horticultural revival, certainly made me long for a career in horticulture. And Marc’s enthusiasm, once it infected me live over a decade and a few college degrees later, certainly reinforced in me the knowledge that I had chosen a rewarding career path. I’ve known Marc personally for over 20 years now, and his enthusiasm for our industry has continued to inspire me and I know many others."
- Dr. Marvin N. Miller, Ball Horticultural Co.

"Marc has been a ‘Champion’ for gardeners, the floral industry and for floral research. He has been a brilliant scientist and a true visionary for gardening practices and has shared information very effectively through his interactive radio show, comprehensive and informative books, and exciting and stimulating talks. His research was the basis for development of the poinsettia as a flowering potted plant and germination requirements for various bedding plants. The Society of American Florists has recognized Marc as a member of the Floriculture Hall of Fame and is pleased to celebrate his career of successes for the floral industry for six decades."
- Terril A. Nell, Chair, Environmental Horticulture Department, University of Florida, and Society of American Florists President

"The USDA performs mission-orientated research. Dr. Cathey helped teach me the meaning of this type of research. Mission-orientated research has at its root a practice problem. The solution to that problem usually involves basic theoretical research. This solution then requires additional applied research to put that solution into practice. Dr. Cathey’s research involved all aspects of a problem from basic to applied. Finally, Dr. Cathey was the ultimate salesperson. His tech transfer activities convinced the industry of the merits of the new practices. Very few scientists today have the breath to perform both types of research."
- Rob Griesbach, Floral & Nursery Plants Research, U.S. National Arboretum

"Through his work with radio, writing, lecturing, and television, Dr. Cathey brought fun, color, and drama to the world of horticulture making it more accessible and certainly more entertaining."Holly H. Shimizu, Executive Director, United States Botanic Garden
"Dr. Marc Cathey is brilliant in every sense of the word, incredibly smart, a bright shining light, and a man of remarkable pizzazz! He has been the guiding force of American horticulture and the American Horticultural Society for decades. As both an accomplished artist and research scientist, as both an effective communicator and educator, Dr. Cathey has brought vision and direction to the this important national organization which represents the broad scope of horticulture in America -- from research scientists to the green industry, garden professionals, garden writers, and backyard gardeners."
- Katy Moss Warner, President and C.E.O., American Horticultural Society

"Dr. Cathey’s research while he was at USDA Beltsville on the influence of temperature and light on ornamentals was an inspiration to all young professors like myself, and became a building block for environmental research still being conducted today. His work with the Cold Hardiness Map and subsequent drawing of heat tolerance guidelines for gardeners and landscapers puts him in a rarified group of very influential people in Horticulture in this country. And of course, no one who has ever met Dr Cathey will leave his side without being told to: ‘Get out and garden!’ He is a true Legend of Horticulture."
- Dr. Allan M. Armitage , Professor of Horticulture, University of Georgia


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