JARS v53n2 - In Memoriam: Ronald John Coker

In Memoriam: Ronald John Coker
Bob George
Issaquah, WA

It is with a heavy heart that I write of the passing of a friend and a true lover of rhododendrons and of gardening in general. Ron Coker of Christchurch, New Zealand, and member of the Portland Chapter, passed away peacefully on December 28, 1998. Ron's health had been failing for quite sometime. He was in a convalescent home at the time of his passing.

Ron was a frequent visitor to the United States. He was a speaker at the ARS Annual Convention in San Francisco in 1981, attended many other ARS conventions, judged flower shows, and visited his many friends in California, Oregon, Washington, and the other locations where he could find rhododendrons growing. There was always an open door awaiting his visits. There was a quality about Ron which could best be described by the word "gentleman." He made himself welcomed in every situation. People would line up to have his company on his visits. There was never a question as to his enjoyment and participation in an outing, and never a garden he didn't enjoy visiting.

A quote from Ron Ayling, president of the Canterbury Branch of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association: "He was one of our great ambassadors, liked and respected wherever he traveled and equally welcoming to visitors from all over the globe. It did not matter if people arrived singly or by the bus load, he and Mollie received them and entertained them with equal kindness, courtesy and unflagging interest. He gave willingly of his time and knowledge in talking to garden groups and in lecturing and judging in New Zealand and overseas. No request for his help was ever refused or considered too trivial."

Ron Coker had a very long and fruitful life. He and his wife, Mollie, were married in 1972 and enjoyed 15 fabulous years. Together they produced a number of wonderful hybrids. These plants, in turn, have been used by other hybridizers to create additional generations.

Some of the rhododendrons which we have in our gardens that are products of Mollie's and Ron's efforts are: 'Mollie Coker', 'Ivan D. Wood', 'Coker's Choice', 'Coker's Misty Dawn' (unregistered name), 'Coker's Pink', 'Coral Queen', 'Pacific Princess', 'Gilded Gown', 'Olivia Coker', 'Pacific Queen', 'Phantom', The Dream', Touch of Class', 'Whipped Cream', and 'White Sails'. Other hybrids associated with the Cokers' endeavors are: 'Ambergris', 'Dainty Lass', 'Highfield Cream', 'Ilam Pink Splendour', 'Marshmallow', 'Ron Coker' and 'Sarita Coker'.