JARS v56n1 - In Memoriam: Frances Sumner

In Memoriam: Frances Sumner
David Larwood

After more than a century of bringing joy to others, Frances Sumner passed away on Sept. 2, 2001. Born Nov. 17, 1899, she lived in three centuries and was featured for that in Life Magazine, February 2000. She and her husband, Maurice, founded the ARS California Chapter in Oakland, and have won almost countless bronze and silver cups, plaques, ribbons and shows - the list goes on and on. This delightful couple spent more than fifty years hybridizing and growing rhododendrons. At least ten of their hybrids are propagated commercially, with several others being studied. Perhaps their best known hybrid is 'Mi Amor', which won an Award of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1966 and was featured on the cover of the summer 1999 ARS Journal. Other well-known hybrids include 'Saffron Prince', 'Owen Pearce', 'Fran Sumner', 'Maurie Sumner', 'My Lady', and 'My Guy'.

Fran met her beloved Maurie when they were children in San Jose, near San Francisco. After attending college at what is now the University of the Pacific and teaching for several years, she married her childhood sweetheart. They built a lovely home in San Francisco in 1935 and developed a strong interest in rhododendrons. When their expanding garden outgrew their space, they acquired five acres near Santa Cruz. Here they were able to plant numerous species and hybrids they collected and many of their own hybrids. The garden, which now has many 40- to 50-year-old plants, includes several hundred plants and by one rough estimate over a million blooms each season. Fran and Maurie donated many large specimens to Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and the University of California, Berkeley, Botanical Garden. Four years after Maurie passed away in 1993 (JARS 47:4), Fran wrote a book about their lives together (JARS 53:4). Fran lived a life of love - love for Maurie, for people, for flowers, and for life, and she shared that love with great intensity with each person she met.