A memorial tribute has been established with the American Floral Endowment by the University of Georgia Department of Horticulture to honor Paul Thomas, Ph.D. who passed away September 14, 2019, at the age of 65.
Paul was a renowned researcher, prolific speaker and champion of budding horticulturists. He devoted his life to the study of horticulture. His numerous accomplishments included publishing more than 350 peer-reviewed scientific and outreach articles, receiving 41 academic awards and giving more than 600 presentations to industry groups. He also received SAF’s Alex Laurie Award for outstanding achievement in research just last year.
Paul especially loved mentoring students and helping them embark on horticultural careers. For more than 20 years, he was a professor at the University of Georgia, where he taught greenhouse management, horticultural business practices and interiorscaping classes. A key component of his program was facilitating experiential learning through industry internships. Thomas served as the State Extension Specialist in floriculture. In this position, he planned and implemented regional and state programs involving greenhouses and the florist industry.
He had recently retired from UGA and, just this month, started work as the American Floral Endowment’s ambassador for internships and scholarships. He was traveling between universities when he passed away. Prior to his new position, he reviewed research grants and scholarship applications for AFE and also helped coordinate internship promotional videos the organization still uses today.
“I’m heartbroken,” said Debi Chedester, AFE’s Executive Director, who worked with Paul for many years and admired his commitment to setting up students for success. “He stayed in touch with every single one of them and was a proud papa when he learned of a past student’s new career position or life event,” she said. “Paul’s love for this industry was undeniable. He lived it every day and, even upon retirement, chose to travel to tell students about the opportunities for young professionals. The industry lost an amazing educator, advocate, and friend.”
His UGA colleague, Marc van Iersel, Ph.D., applauded Paul’s talent for nudging students out of their comfort zones. “Paul’s assurances and encouragement allowed many students to pursue dreams and careers they otherwise would not have,” he said. “Perhaps his biggest impact was not that he believed in the students but that he was able to make the students believe in themselves.”
Although the horticulture community lost one of its greatest activists, through these students, “Paul’s legacy will continue for generations to come,” said Leonardo Lombardini, Ph.D., the head of UGA’s horticulture department.
A visitation will be held Friday, Sept. 27, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Lord & Stephens Funeral Homes,
4355 Lexington Road, Athens, GA 30605. His memorial service will be Saturday, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. at Corinth Baptist Church, 2040 Belmont Rd., Arnoldsville, GA 30619.
Contributions to the Dr. Paul Thomas Memorial Tribute can be made here, or by sending a check to:
American Floral Endowment
c/o Dr. Paul Thomas Memorial Tribute
1001 N. Fairfax Street, Suite 201
Alexandria, VA 22314
The family is always notified of donations and contributions can be made in any amount.