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A Tribute to Paul Drummond

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#1 TikiRick



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Posted 18 September 2007 - 09:02 AM

Paul Andrew Drummond
(April 15, 1924 – September 15, 2007)

Born to a physician father and a loving, stay at home mother, Paul was raised in New York City during an age of the city’s “reinvention” from crime, poverty, and the desperation of crowded immigrants to the welcoming diversity of people, religion, cultures, and the arts. As a youngster, adventuresome Paul thrived on the continual thrill the big city atmosphere offered including riding the subways and exploring Central Park….all alone and by eight years of age.

After his physician father met a premature accidental death, his independent mother was determined to afford the lifestyle Paul and his brother was accustomed to. He assisted her with her business of a nurse’s referral service, which proved to be quite successful.

New York was the host of the World’s Fair in 1939/1940, with many exhibits on Long Island. The “Florida Pavilion” was no exception. This exhibit housed many Florida displays as a marketing endeavor to lure real estate developers and tourists to Florida. Outside of the exhibit, Paul admired a small grove of the Florida state tree, the Sabal palmetto, or Cabbage palm. As the World’s Fair came to an end, Paul would take a train out to see the palms that remained behind, surviving numerous Long Island winters.

After Paul’s obvious fascination to Florida and palms, a wealthy uncle invited Paul to ride a new locomotive express train, The Silver Meteor, to Miami for a vacation. This revolutionary high speed train shaved an entire eight hours off of the trip, now taking a mere 25 hours.  The trip departed New York during a cold, snowy February day, and once into Florida, Paul was overwhelmed at the blue skies, warm temperature, and the lush, green foliage, particularly the swaying coconut palms.  He later told me that even then, at age nine, he was “hooked” on palms.

Although not particularly religious, Paul was later accepted to and entered Fordham University, a traditional Jesuit school where he studied Philosophy.

With World War II now in full effect, Paul felt compelled to come to the aid of his country by enlisting in the United States military. After being bribed by his uncle to enlist in the Navy and not another branch, Paul was soon a Naval Lieutenant in command of a vessel with approximately 250 Marines from the Southeastern states. Stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii, Paul soon reconfirmed his love of the tropics, more specifically palms.

Situated on his vessel just off shore of a South Pacific atoll with hundreds of tall, swaying coconut palms, white sugar sand beach, and shimmering clear blue water, he would tell me later that he thought “war or no war, this is pure paradise.”

Later, Japan accepted the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration  
and agreed to surrender. Paul is on a Naval vessel accompanying the occupational forces into Tokyo Bay, an absolutely awesome expression of military might.  It was an experience he said he would never forget. Unfortunately some of the memories of the war were not favorable ones and he continued to suffer from postwar traumatic stress syndrome, especially while sleeping.

Once the war was over, Paul returned to New York City, but his love of tropical plants was too much to endure. He decided to move to Miami in 1948, where he purchased a two plus acre of undeveloped land, “way south” of downtown Miami where he built his home. Fairchild Tropical Garden, less than a half mile away, proved to be Paul’s home away from home. In fact, Paul resided there, on Old Cutler Road, for more than fifty years. With increasing population comes development, and reflecting back Paul often said that days went by before he would see a car traveling on Old Cutler Road. His palm garden was growing—in height and number of species.

Paul’s generosity was evident as thousands of seeds and seedlings over the years were given away from his towering palm collection. If you asked, and he had it, it was yours to take and cherish.

After joining the Palm Society, Paul gained quite the reputation for his knowledge about palms. In fact, many “palm friends and dignitaries” often stopped to see his collection when Fairchild Tropical Garden was in their itineraries. He even toured Brazilian Landscape Architect Roberto Burle Marx who stated that Paul’s garden was “a truly magnificent portion of life’s work.” He welcomed anyone to visit and stay during the winter season.

Paul worked for the Audubon Society giving tours throughout the Everglades. He loved to share the fascination about Florida’s wetlands, native vegetation and fauna. His enthusiasm was contagious, particularly to those “snowbirds” visiting from November through April. Later, he worked for Deltona in Coral Gables, as the Director of Grounds Maintenance. Here, he established another palm collection, often using very unusual palms for the time. His public use of species of Ptychosperma and Cocos was unconventional for the time.  

During a vacation to Jamaica in 1963, he witnessed the devastation caused by Lethal Yellowing in the coconut industry. Recognizing the early signs of the disease in coconuts, Paul witnessed coconuts planted around the Miami Airport showing the same signs in the late 1970’s. His calls to the State of Florida Department of Agriculture fell on deaf ears and soon thereafter, lethal yellowing swept thousands of coconuts from the south Florida landscape.

Paul was an early pioneer with The Palm Society. Dedicated and committed to the research, education, and inherent promotion of palms, Paul was elected President of the International Palm Society in 1980 and served until 1982. During his tenure as President, Paul led the Society into the age of technology with the advancement of communication and research via the computer. He served to establish the foundation of what was later called Genera Palmerum as well as hosting the Biennial in his ‘hometown’ of Miami. Afterwards, he continued to serve on the Advisory Board for the IPS. Paul was often seen as a vendor at the “World’s Largest Palm Sale” at Fairchild Tropical Garden each November. He was most proud of his containers of Raphis excelsa and varieties of Cocos nucifera.

He traveled the world, primarily with Palm Society friends, to explore the rich ecosystems of the tropics bringing home stories of adventure. As a story teller, Paul’s inherent wit and humor could turn any trip into an intriguing account.

In addition, Paul also pursued the state to conduct extensive research on the palm family. This proved to be difficult since the focus at that time, was more toward citrus and species of hardwood timber. Some research was being conducted on coconut palms resistant to lethal yellowing by this time. His perseverance proved successful, as the research center at Chapman Field was established. Hurricane Andrew came ashore in August of 1992, and devastated the Chapman Field (as well as Paul’s palm collection), thereby ending this era of research. It would take Paul more than one day to chainsaw his way out of his house to get to the street. Massive Roystonea regias were now lying on top of his roof and driveway.

Paul moved to a smaller, more manageable home and garden, in South Miami after the larger property exhausted him. However, just as rich in palms, his more compact garden continued to motivate him to continue as a ‘palm nut’ being active in Palm Society functions.

Paul leaves behind a legacy of palms and other tropical plants dispersed throughout South Florida and beyond. More importantly, Paul’s love of palms spilled over to many who shared the same passion. He leaves this world as a man who never stopped living life.  He loved every day and appreciated all that was bestowed upon him: friends, health, humor, knowledge, and of course, palms.

Every time I see a coconut palm, Paul, I will think of you. We will all miss you tremendously. We hope you are once again on that tropical atoll, relaxing in the shade beneath a grove of swaying coconut palms.

Rick Leitner
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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Rick Leitner
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Zone 10B
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Average Annual High 84 F
Average Annual Rainfall 62"

Riverfront exposure, 1 mile from Atlantic Ocean
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#2 BS Man about Palms

BS Man about Palms

    This TVR is trapped in my garage by PALMS!

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 04:27 PM

Thank you Rick, for a well conveyed history of a "Palmworld" Legend.

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Zone 10a at best after 2007 AND 2013, on SW facing hill, 1 1/2 miles from coast in Oceanside, CA. 30-98 degrees, and 45-80deg. about 95% of the time.

"The great workman of nature is time."
"Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience."
-George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon-

#3 Jeff Searle

Jeff Searle

    Camp #3- Marojejy Mtns.

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Posted 18 September 2007 - 06:26 PM

   Thanks for sharing with us all, the history and background of one of our past president's of the palm society.I'm glad I had the chance to know Paul for many years and always enjoyed talking to him. And as you stated, Paul really did enjoy talking about palms right up until the end.
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Searle Brothers Nursery Inc.
and The Rainforest Collection.
Southwest Ranches,Fl.

#4 Palmateer


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Posted 19 September 2007 - 03:32 AM

Thanks, Rick. It was more fun traveling to biennials when Paul Drummond was in the entourage!

I. too, shared in Paul's generosity with his plants. In fact, the two largest Jamaica Tall coconuts at our St. Petersburg Arboretum were collected in Paul's original garden in the mid-1970s.
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Mid-Pinellas (St. Petersburg) Florida, USA

Member of Palm Society 1973-2012
Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum development 1977-1991
Chapter President 1983-84
Palm Society Director 1984-88

#5 KonaDave



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Posted 19 September 2007 - 01:36 PM


Though I have never met the man, I have heard much about him and your passage tells of even more. Well Done.

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David Currie
Tamarac, FL ....suburban Fort Lauderdale

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#6 PalmGuyWC



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Posted 20 September 2007 - 08:57 AM


That was a beautiful tribute to Paul and some of his history. It pains me very much that my oldest friend is gone. I knew Paul for 48 years and I met him as a young man, out of college, without a job, and kind of lost in a large city. After meeting Paul it soon became apparent that we shared a common interest in plants as I had studied landscape architecture at the Univ. of Ga. Soon Paul had a vacent room, and I moved in and became a tennent for several years. It was like living in paradise, as Paul had a fabulous palm garden, and many other tropical plants.

As a young man from Southern Ga., my mother who was a great gardner instilled in me the the love of plants, and I grew orchids and insectiverious plants that came from a marsh on my fathers timberland. Soon I became familiar with the world of palms, not only the ones growing in Paul's garden, but the ones growing at Fairchild Gardens, which was nearby. We used to visit Fairchild a couple times a week, and Paul would point out the various palms, what growing conditions they liked and where they came from. I think he knew every palm growing at Fairchild. Paul was a great, and patient teacher, and soon I could pronounce most of the latin names, even though I had a heavy southern drawl.

I think I read every back issue of Principes several times that Paul had saved, and soon he took me to my first Palm Society meeting at the home of Marge Corbin. I'll never forget that meeting because that's where I met Ruth Shatz, who later became a Board of Director and the Treasurer of the Palm Society. Marge had narrow paths lined with sharp limestone bolders, and the lady ahead of me stumped her broken toe on a rock. She uttered an expletive and fainted and fell backwards into my arms. In a few moments, she blinked her eyes while I'm still holding her up, looked into my face and said, "And who are you, handsom"? Ruth remained a life long friend.

My stay in paradise was soon interrupted by Uncle Sam and I spent 2 years in the US Army in Washington DC. When on leave I would go back to Miami, for by this time Paul's place had become home. Soon after returning to Miami from the army, I started flight training to become a commercial pilot. I would fly over Paul's house and buzz it, and he and a regular visiting friend from up North would wave towels at me.  His friend said, "to make him go away."

Soon, I was hired by United Airlines and ended up in San Francisco.  Miami was much to senior for me to be based there. Paul and I continued to be friends and he would visit me in Calif. and I would go to Miami every chance I could get. We continued our friendship over the years, and traveled together to several tropical places. Even though we lived on opposite sides of the continent, we chatted almost every weekend on the phone, and he kept me abrest of what was happening in Fla. which I really felt like was home.

I met many interesting people at Paul's. He lived only a short distance from Fairchild Gardens, and whenever there was a palm function at Fairchild, Paul's was a stopping off place. Sometimes there would be 30 people wandering around his garden, and Paul loved to show off his palms. As Rick mentioned, Paul gave away thousands of palm seeds and seedlings. People usually left Paul's place with a smile from his quick, and sometimes, raucous humor and a plastic baggie filled with seeds or seedlings.

The following is a rather morbid chapter of Paul's life, but I think it should be told. Paul had a very youthfull apperance, even into his 70's, and most people didn't realize he was a World War II veteran, as there are not many left around. The last time I visited him last October, he recounted some of the horrors that he experienced in the war, and how it had affected him. I wish I had taken notes but I didn't.

Paul was the senior officer on an LST in the Pacific, a troop delivery ship, that could hold several tanks or about 250 troops. Paul's ship was involved in the invasion of one of the Japanese occupied islands. The island had been bombbarded by US naval ships for days to soften up the resistance. Paul said 3 days out from the island, you could smell the stinch of decaying bodys.

When they arrived at the island, there was no sign of the Japanese, but they had cleverly tunneled into the island and the island was a maze of tunnels they found out later. When the US marines spilled onto the beach, the Japanese suddenly appeared and mowed down hundreds, thousands, of US troops with machine guns. It was a slaughter.

While parked on the beach, the kamakazi appeared, and one flew in the open door of the LST parked next to Paul's ship which was only about 40 feet away. The airplane exploded and Pauls said arms, legs, and body parts were scattered over his ship. Another bomber aimed at Paul's ship, but overflew it and crashed into the ocean.

After a few days the island was taken over by the US military, but there had been a huge loss of life. Many of the Japanese commited sucide rather than be taken prisoner.

Paul said his job had been basically done, and they were just sitting there for days in the swealtering heat and stinch, so even though he wasn't supposed to, he accompanied a marine medic onto the island. He said the carnage was unbeliveable. There were still living marines, but with "limbs missing, their guts hanging out."  (Paul's quote) There was no possibility of any medical care and the damage was to great, so the medic went from marine to marine and gave them a huge OD of morphine to put them out of their missery.

Even though we won the war, and Paul sailed into Tokeo Bay in the largest naval armata in history, the horror of this carnage had a lasting effect on his phsycie. Even as recent as last October, he told me he still had horrible nightmairs about that event.

I'm sorry this was so morbid, but I think everyone should know what a brave guy Paul was, and he will always be my hero.

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Richard Douglas

#7 swamptreenelly


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Posted 23 September 2007 - 07:05 AM

I have been to Dick's Garden in Walnut Creek, Ca. and was amazed by the selection and maturity of his Palm Grove. I often wished my Palm Garden was as nice. I was inspired by Dick's Garden and it made me want to mimic more Palm Gardens in my own yard and City Parks. Like the Oakland Palmatum. Dick was a student of Paul Andrew Drummond and his passion for palms somehow as embellished and influenced our plantings too! If it was not for Paul Andrew Drummond kindness and passion then maybe our Gardens would not be as great? Paul Andrew Drummond left the world better than he found it. We should all be his students and keep it going.

Nelson Kirk
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Nelson Kirk

Newark, Ca. Zone 17

Located between Oakland and San Jose

#8 swamptreenelly


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Posted 23 September 2007 - 07:07 AM

I have been to Dick's Garden in Walnut Creek, Ca. and was amazed by the selection and maturity of his Palm Grove. I often wished my Palm Garden was as nice. I was inspired by Dick's Garden and it made me want to mimic more Palm Gardens in my own yard and City Parks. Like the Oakland Palmatum. Dick was a student of Paul Andrew Drummond and his passion for palms somehow as embellished and influenced our plantings too! If it was not for Paul Andrew Drummond kindness and passion then maybe our Gardens would not be as great? Paul Andrew Drummond left the world better than he found it. We should all be his students and keep it going.

Nelson Kirk
  • 0
Nelson Kirk

Newark, Ca. Zone 17

Located between Oakland and San Jose

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