In Memoriam: George W. Ring III
Donald W. Hyatt
George W. Ring III, or "Pat" as many close friends knew him, passed away on December 29, 2001, at the age of 73 after a long illness. Sadly, the American Rhododendron Society has lost another great leader, mentor, and friend. Professionally, George was a civil engineer and retired after a distinguished career in the Department of Transportation. In recent years, he moved from his long-time residence in Fairfax, Virginia, to build his dream home and expanded garden on top of Bent Mountain near Roanoke, Virginia. For nearly forty years though, whether we knew him as George or Pat, all of us in the Potomac Valley recognized him to be one of the leading rhododendron experts in our region. George was not just an accomplished plantsman, an avid collector, and discriminating hybridizer, he was also a skilled researcher, writer, speaker, organizer, and motivator. He was one of those rare individuals who through quiet dedication, kindness, and great generosity inspired all those around him. He will be greatly missed.
George was an active leader at both local and international levels of the ARS. He served on the ARS Board of Directors from 1978 to 1981, was East Coast Vice President from 1979 to 1981, and then served as ARS President from 1981 to 1983. While carrying the mantle of ARS President, George also managed to chair the 1982 ARS Convention in Washington, D.C. Over the years, George chaired a number of ARS committees including the Research Committee and the Long-Range Planning Committee. He authored numerous articles for the ARS Journal and assisted on the technical review board for many years. He was sought after as a knowledgeable speaker on rhododendrons and azaleas. He worked on regional plant ratings, was a frequent participant in the Breeder's Roundtable, and was a generous contributor to the ARS Seed Exchange. George was one of the founding members of our Potomac Valley Chapter ARS and aptly received the Bronze Medal for his dedication and service to our chapter. Similarly, the American Rhododendron Society awarded him the Silver Medal in 1979 for his significant contributions on regional and international levels.
Looking back over a long list of accomplishments, perhaps one of George's most notable contributions was his guidance as chairman of the Gable Study Group, a committee organized to document the rhododendron hybridizing efforts of the late Joseph B. Gable. Working with Joe Gable's daughter Caroline and many other associates, the Gable Study Group poured over notes, nursery records, personal correspondence, and the plantings in Little Woods, Gable's rhododendron test area on the family farm in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. So often, the wisdom of a hybridizer like Joe Gable is lost when the expert passes on. Through the research efforts of the committee, the achievements of a great pioneer were revealed and well documented, and portions of their research resulted in a chapter of the book Hybrids and Hybridizers (Livingston and West, 1978). When George was ARS President, he instituted a new award by the ARS, the Pioneer Achievement Award. Appropriately, George presented this award to honor its first recipient, Joe Gable, posthumously.
In order to preserve the Gable Study Group records for future historians, in 1988 George donated original research materials and other important papers to the Alderman Memorial Library at the University of Virginia. Included in this gift were many of George's own personal notes and correspondence with rhododendron experts from around the world. He also provided documents from his tenure as ARS President. The collections, known as the Papers of George W. Ring III in the Alderman Library, currently contain 2,832 items that are available to researchers and rhododendron enthusiasts for future reference.
George stressed how important it was for rhododendrons in the Middle Atlantic region to be not only cold hardy but also heat tolerant, and many of the articles he wrote for the ARS Journal focused on such topics. As for George's own hybridizing, he was very discriminating. Certainly the flower must be beautiful, but the plant must be rugged too. Consequently, George raised many rhododendron and azalea seedlings but named relatively few, only those that passed his high standards. His lovely hybrid 'Fairfax' is certainly one of my favorite azaleas of all time, a hardy landscape plant with compact habit and dark evergreen leaves. The flowers are magnificent, large and ruffled in shades of pale pink that remind one of florist azaleas. Other azaleas he registered include 'Ring's Orchido' which is a wonderful pale lavender companion and sister seedling of 'Fairfax', 'Taenzer', 'Ring Gold', 'Ring One', and 'Lucent'. He also registered two rhododendrons, 'Helen Ring' named for his beloved wife, and 'Oakton' named for his former community here in Northern Virginia.
As I look around my own garden, I see George Ring's influence everywhere. Seedlings, crosses, cuttings, and plants he gave away or brought to chapter meetings are now choice specimens in my garden. Whenever I visited George, I think he always gave me some plant (or several) he felt I needed. My very favorite rhododendron in the garden is a lovely, 30-year old specimen of the pale pink species, R. metternichii. I have raised pring, it never fails to put on a grand show and its foliage is perfection throughout the season.
George is survived by his wife, Helen, two sons Charles S. and Daniel W. Ring, step-daughter Rebecca Pilcher, sister Julia Lambert, three grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. He also leaves a host of close friends and admirers, as well as a legacy of rhododendron plants and valuable knowledge that will forever honor the name of this great man. He has certainly made a difference and we are thankful for the legacy of George "Pat" Ring.