In Memoriam: Willard Thompson
It is with great pride that any one who knew Willard Thompson will say that he was their friend. Willard Wilburn Thompson Sr. was born in Waterville, Washington in 1920. He spent most of his life in Waldport, Oregon, first as the owner of a logging and saw mill operation. Finally around 1960 he found the love of his life, rhododendrons. Willard had always been interested in plants and had grafted apple trees and collected and grown many kinds of other trees and shrubs.
When Willard found rhododendrons, he shared this love with his wife Margaret and together they built one of the finest collections of rhododendrons, both species and hybrids. Soon his infectious enthusiasm spread to his son Roy and daughter-in-law Evelyn. They joined Willard and Margaret on their 100 acre property on the Alsea river just east of Waldport. They are today continuing the business and hybridizing programs which Willard inspired.
When Willard became interested in hybridizing he produced many hybrids, some yet to be released. Probably his best known hybrid is 'Ring of Fire' which was a break through in color combinations for hardier rhododendron. He was also known for his ability in grafting rhododendrons, building up a large stock of many species which were previously unavailable, due to being so difficult to propagate. Willard had a special way with these plants and though arthritis greatly damaged his hands, he continued grafting for many years.
Few people will ever be as respected and well liked as Willard. He was known throughout the west. There was a special feeling of pleasure for those who knew him, when he showed up at their garden or at one of the many American Rhododendron Society chapter meetings which he and Margaret frequently attended. Willard was awarded a Bronze Medal by the Siuslaw Chapter of the ARS.
Yes, we will greatly miss Willard, but know he won't soon be forgotten.