JARS v57n2 - In Memoriam: James Powell Huie

In Memoriam: James Powell Huie
Ian Donovan

When Powell Huie spoke to the chapter in conjunction with the Fall Foliage Show during the evening of Oct. 16, 1996, he dazzled us with his talk, "Rhododendron Species Close-up: The Things You Don't See With the naked Eye." This presentation was the culmination of the many, many hours Powell had spent during the previous two years photographing the floral details of his species collection. He worked hard to ensure that the plants he described to us were in their proper pigeon holes according to the recent revisions to the genus Rhododendron and that he used the correct botanical terms.

J. Powell Huie succumbed in January 2003, after a long, frustrating and painful campaign to gain the upper hand over his disease and failing eyesight. Unfortunately, he lost this last battle before he was able to enjoy one more New England spring season in his and his wife Maggie's marvelous garden in Westport Point, Massachusetts. The garden is a wonderland of species and hybrid azaleas and rhododendrons, as well as fine collections of perennials and ornamental flowering trees and conifers. Powell was ever pushing the envelope on what unusual species he could grow in his temperate garden. Small, tender sorts usually spent a season or two in his specially constructed lath house before they were set out in beds to survive on their own.

A native of southwest Texas, Powell never lost his distinct, soft accent. Powell was a man of strong will, taken to making decisions in a careful and deliberate style. He held bachelor's and master's degrees (geology and physics) from the University of Oklahoma, and completed advanced work in mathematics and electronics at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During World War II, Powell served in the United States Marine Corps, attaining the rank of Captain. Because he was a former Marine Drill Instructor, he had no need to use a microphone during his 1996 talk to the chapter.

Powell's professional career revolved around the petroleum industry, where he was a vice president of Gulf Oil Company based in London for ten years. In this position, he was responsible for oil exploration, drilling, and production in the North Sea, Africa, and the Middle East. His earlier duties had taken him to Venezuela, Angola, and Nigeria. While living in London, he was also a member of the board of directors for several Gulf Oil affiliated companies, including the Kuwait Oil Company. Powell retired to Westport Point in 1978. Then he had time to refine his golf game in Palm Desert, California, and at the Acoaxet Country Club of Westport, where he was a competitive golfer, winning several trophies. He was also on the board of governors of this latter club. He was also a member of the Carlton Club of London and the Wamsutta Club of New Bedford.

Powell was a member of the American Rhododendron Society Massachusetts Chapter for twenty years, an active supporter of the Rhododendron Species Foundation, and an early member of the chapter's Species Study Group. He also belonged to the Rhododendron Society of Canada and the Royal Horticultural Society's Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group. Indeed, species rhododendrons were the focus of his interest since the mid-1980s. Powell and his wife, Maggie, have been frequent winners at our annual May Truss Show with their stunning entries. They have regularly opened their garden when it was in its full glory for tours to rhododendron people and citizens of Westport.

We shall miss Powell's competitive spirit and sense of humor as this spring rhododendron season arrives. We trust, however, that we have fulfilled his request made as he was introduced for that Wednesday evening talk over six years ago: "I hope my obituary is that good!"