In Memoriam: Gay Smith


Gay Smith’s sisters, Joy and Susie, love to share the story about Gay years ago making the simple statement “There’s probably nothing I don’t know about cut flowers.”

Joy and Susie got a kick out of this declaration, and used it often to tease her about her self-confidence. But they, along with the rest of the international floral industry, came to realize that this was not an empty boast.

After earning a degree in environmental horticulture at the University of Arizona, Gay worked for a retail florist in San Francisco, then at the San Francisco Flower Market. This led to a three-year term in the Netherlands, where, from 1981 to 1983, she was the only woman, and the only American, to hold a seat at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. Her already comprehensive knowledge of the range of floral product available from countries around the world deepened and broadened, and her love of travel and self-education became realized.

Gay became the go-to expert on the postharvest of cut flowers and other floral material, and joined the team at Chrysal in 2001. She wrote articles for several publications, including The Cut Flower Quarterly and the SAF’s Floral Management. Gay was constantly on the road: visiting farms and greenhouses in North and South America, the Netherlands, Israel, and Africa. She spoke to anyone who handled flowers, from growers of hundreds of field acres, to small retail florists, to grocery store clerks, to wholesale importers and sellers. A naturally happy person, she had an easy rapport with everyone she met; whether she talked to an ASCFG member just getting started, or to a Dutch family in business for years, she immediately made a personal connection, which gained her not only much respect, but many, many friends.

Gay and I became friends in 1990. We shared a love of books, wine, and won-dering why so many people feel the need to use an apostrophe when making plurals. Even if we saw each other only once a year, we’d immediately fall back into the conversation we’d left off months before. At last year’s ASCFG meeting in Portland, we had to be shushed because our laughter at the back of the room was disturbing other attendees.
For Gay’s memorial service on March 24, more flowers were sent to her house in Portland than probably fill a wholesale house in one day. Her friends and her sisters’ friends spent a day creating large designs for the church, and mason jar bouquets for visitors to take home, with a note from Gay and a Chrysal packet attached. The crates crammed with jars had been set outside, but when it started to rain at three in the morning, Joy and Susie hustled to bring them all back to the cozy basement.

Then, Joy told me, she could hear Gay telling her “Wet, warm conditions are PERFECT for botrytis development! Better get some air moving on those flowers NOW.” so they scrambled to place fans around the crates. The next morning, the blooms were fresh and unblemished.

Clearly, Gay really did know everything about cut flowers, and shared this knowledge with everyone she knew. She will be missed.