Cliff Cannon - A Man of Many Seasons
Cliff Cannon, a charter member of the Olympia Chapter, is perhaps the oldest active member of the American Rhododendron Society! At age 93 he and Gladys, his wife of more than 60 years, regularly attend chapter meetings and participate in many chapter activities.
Cliff played an important part in the beginning of the Olympia Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, serving as chairman of the organizational meeting in June 1962. He also served with the first elected officers to draw up by-laws for the chapter.
In addition to being one of the founding members of the chapter, and an active member for the nearly forty years of the chapter's existence, Cliff is also a widely known and highly respected hybridizer of rhododendrons and azaleas.
Born in the hills of North Carolina on February 23, 1908, he lived with his family there and in Virginia until 1918. From Winston-Salem, N.C., the family moved to Hoquiam, Wash., where his father worked as a logger. He attended school in Hoquiam, earned a teaching degree at Central Washington University, and later obtained a B. A. degree from the University of Washington. His first job following graduation was in Elmira, Wash., "a little town between Spokane and Wenatchee" where Cliff taught seventh and eighth grade. In those days, as Cliff recalled, the students of rural schools were required to pass a state examination. All the students in Cliff's class of thirty students did pass, which he felt was quite an achievement. After leaving Elmira, Cliff taught for ten years in Shelton, before teaching in Olympia for "thirty years or so." His subjects included world history, economics, sociology, health and Washington State history.
Cliff and Gladys Cannon
Photo by Joanne Campbell
He and Gladys (a South Dakota girl who moved with her family to Olympia where she attended school, and also earned a teaching degree from Central Washington University) met while both were teaching at Shelton.
Cliff was always fond of flowers, and his first hybridizing efforts were with primroses and gladiolus. However, after attending a rhododendron show in Tacoma where he met A. E. Heineman (a nurseryman in the Fife-Milton area) who had a "wonderful collection of azaleas," Cliff developed an interest in azaleas. He also became acquainted with Halfdan Lem and, as Gladys recounted, they would visit Lem's nursery and she would follow them around for hours while they talked Latin terms, etc. The Cannons had a longtime friendship with Halfdan Lem and had received a number of letters from him which they thought very interesting. (These letters were later given to Gwen Bell). He also gained valuable information from Mr. Heineman and Bill Whitney of Whitney's Nursery at Brinnon. The Cannons credit a rhododendron grower, Frank Morgan, of Hoquiam, with providing plants which Cliff used in his first hybridizing.
Cliff had not especially intended to hybridize double flowered azaleas but the crosses he made seemed to produce several. Cliff's best-known hybrid is 'Cannon's Double' ('Corneille' X 'Cecile), a beautiful multi-colored double flowered deciduous azalea first introduced in 1984 (see photo front cover). Also available on the market is a fragrant white rhododendron, 'Travis L.', named for the Cannon's grandson. Cliff has a number of elepidote rhododendrons with recently registered names, including several yellow blends, 'Cannon's Sun Gold', 'Cannon's Fawn Yellow', 'Cannon's Black Gold', 'Cannon's Yellow' and 'Yellow Ribbon'. Also recently registered are 'Raspberry Cream' (greenish yellow flushed yellowish pink), 'Cannon's Plum Perfect' (white with dark red blotch), and a bi-color with deep purplish pink margins, 'Kathie Cannon', named for their daughter. His only recently registered deciduous azalea is a double yellow, 'Gladys Cannon'. 'Cannon's Double Red', a double flowered deciduous azalea, is not registered but has been briefly marketed.
Perhaps Cliff's hybridizing has contributed to his longevity, as there is always something to look forward to. A positive outlook may also help. While some older chapter members hesitate about planting small plants in their garden because they take several years to reach blooming size, Cliff and Gladys find a spot to plant them and expect to watch them flourish and bloom!
In appreciation of Cliff's work in hybridizing, and their many contributions to chapter activities, Cliff and Gladys were honored with the Bronze Medal, their chapter's highest award, in 1992.
Sadly, Cliff Cannon passed away on March 12, 2002.
Joanne Campbell is a member of the Shelton Chapter.