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DRUMMOND, Paul A. - President 1980-1982

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(From the Memorial Sub-forum on PalmTalk)

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 (TikiRick)
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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