Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Giant Has Fallen (to borrow a phrase from a Master Gardener)

I'm saddened that Gray Thompson, one of the founding fathers of the Oregon Master Gardener Program, passed away recently.

As you may know, the Oregon Master Gardener Program was started in 1976, through the efforts of Gray Thompson and Duane Hatch. At the time, Duane was an Extension Agent in Lane County, and Gray was an Extension Agent in Clackamas County. Thus, the first Master Gardener classes were taught in these two counties, by these two innovative and adventurous individuals.

Although he helped to start the Master Gardener Program in the 1970s, Gray began his career with OSU Extension in 1948, working in agriculture and 4-H. During his time with OSU, Gray worked in Lincoln, Umatilla and Multnomah Counties, before his time in Clackamas County.

Following Gray's retirement in 1983, he took the Master Gardener training course with his wife, Norrene. The two have been active Master Gardener volunteers, ever since.

Gray served as President of the Clackamas County Master Gardener Association. For many years, he taught training classes for the incoming Master Gardener classes. Jan and Ray McNeilan report that Gray is likely responsible for starting the popular pH soil tests at the Milwaukie Senior Center.

In 1996, Gray was honored as a Diamond Pioneer Award Winner, by OSU Extension. In 1997, Gray and Norrene were honored as 'Outstanding Cooperators' by the OSU Extension Association. In 2005, the couple was honored as Oregon Master Gardeners of the Year in 2005 by the Oregon Master Gardener Association and the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program. In 2006, Gray was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame . More recently, Gray and Norrene served as MG Guides in the Metro Master Gardener Program, where they helped to insure that both interns and MG veterans provided consistent, accurate and reliable information to clients. All of this and more helped to build and strengthen the Master Gardener Program for the benefit of so many faculty, staff, volunteers and clients.

Those who have had the pleasure to chat with Gray will likely remember him as a true gentleman - ever excited about gardening and about community service through the Master Gardener Program. Jan and Ray McNeilan, who knew Gray very well (Ray had worked with him since 1978) passed on the following sentiments: "We will miss his never-ending enthusiasm, his pride in the MG program and his signature hello, 'Ahoy there.".

When I first started my work at OSU, Gray was generous with stories, jokes and smiles that made me even more excited to join the great tradition of those who came before me. I'm saddened beyond words to think that I will no longer see him at Master Gardener events, or at the annual Gardeners Mini-College.

The memorial service for Gray Thompson will take place at Moreland Presbyterian Church (1814 SE Bybee Blvd, Portland) on Saturday, January 15th, at 2 p.m.