In Memoriam: William Sweeney, Jr.
Chapter treasurer, vice-president, Flower Show steward, chair of the Display Garden Committee, czar of the Memorial Weekend Sale and Auction, president, keeper of the chapter slide projector and spare bulbs ARS District Director - quite a list of very varied titles for one of Massachusetts Chapter's most energetic and selfless volunteers. Add that list to his activities as a businessman, engineer, fraternity brother, hiker, sailor, skier, body surfer, gardener, town volunteer, husband and father and you start to get some sense of how full of energy and enthusiasm our friend Bill Sweeney was.
Bill joined our chapter in 1980, after he came under the spell of his close neighbor and good friend, the late Dick Brooks. Dick led many of us down that sweet, inexorable path - not a primrose path, but the rhododendron path - to our full-blown rhododendron obsessions. Bill started collecting plants from Dick's nursery, designing and establishing his own woodland garden. When his work schedule eased up, he started coming regularly to chapter meetings. He entered his first truss in the May Flower Show years ago and won Best In Show along with Best Novice! We all sat up and took notice. He took on the demanding job of chapter treasurer and from there became one of our most persistent volunteers. No job was too difficult or complicated. With his characteristic insouciance, Bill would start to figure out what needed doing and how to do it, and often he would volunteer to lead the effort.
He chaired the committee that looked for alternatives to our doomed Case Estates Garden, a complex and emotionally difficult task for our chapter. After considering all the options, the committee recommended a new garden at Elm Bank, then a barely viable new headquarters for the barely surviving Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Bill was an essential participant in the bewildering and complex negotiations with MHS. His enthusiasm and infectious optimism helped persuade our wavering Board of Directors to take the huge gamble - to trust that MHS would survive, and to start a new garden at Elm Bank. After that he was very involved in the early decisions about the new garden and its design. Our lovely Display Garden is a growing reminder of Bill and his efforts on behalf of our chapter.
The chapter awarded Bill the Bronze Medal of the American Rhododendron Society in 1999 after his lengthy stint as treasurer. We don't really have any other formal awards for Bronze Medal winners who continue to devote time and effort to the chapter. If we did, Bill would have had a wallful of additional awards. He was one of the stalwarts, the kind of member an organization relies on, but can never reward sufficiently.
Bill was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1933, attended the Pingry School in New Jersey, and then MIT, where he earned a BS in Management and a Masters in Civil Engineering. He worked as a construction management consultant until his retirement. He died on September 23, 2005, at home with his wife, Mimi, following his lengthy, hard-fought battle with cancer.