published January 8, 2013
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Ray Bilton VMH died on 31 October 2013 at the age of 75, peacefully in the nursing home where he had spent the last year of his life. Until he was afflicted by Alzheimer’s syndrome, he was proprietor of Orchid Answers just outside the city of Chichester, England, which he ran with the help of his wife, Veronica. His illness made it impossible for him to continue; the nursery was closed in 2007 and most of his historic hybrids lost.
Born in the coal mining town of Houghton Le Spring, then in County Durham but now a Metropolitan borough of the City of Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England. He grew his first orchids at the age of 11 in his father’s greenhouse upon hearing that orchids were beautiful but the most difficult plants to grow. Heating was no problem as his father was a coal miner so the family received free coal. By the time he was 20 he had 400 plants. He started his professional career in orchids in 1960 looking after the orchids in the late Eric Young’s collection in Jersey (which continues to this day as the Eric Young Orchid Foundation). In 1961 he moved to McBean’s Orchids in Sussex, becoming its Manager in 1965 and later Managing Director, rebuilding and expanding the business. He is credited with registering over 3,000 hybrids, principally in the Odontoglossum Alliance (now Oncidiinae) and Cymbidium, and was one of the first people in the world to mericlone orchids after a period working with Prof Georges Morel, the French pioneer in the field. In recognition of his hybridising, the orchid nothogenus Biltonara (then Ada x Cochlioda x Miltonia x Odontoglossum) was named in his honour by George Black in 1994.
While at McBean’s he staged over 70 RHS Gold Medal exhibits and won the RHS’s Lawrence Medal, Williams Memorial Medal and Westonbirt Medal, a feat which few if any others have accomplished. He supplied the orchids (Odontoglossum Royal Wedding and Odontoglossum Royal Occasion) for the wedding bouquet of Princess Diana in 1981. Following a substantial redevelopment of the nursery during the late 1980s some difficult times lay ahead for Ray, including the devastation wrought by the hurricane of 1987 and the recession of the early 1990s, culminating in Ray's departure in 1993. In 1996, he started up Orchid Answers with 2,790 sq. metres of computer-controlled glasshouses and a laboratory complex, with the mission of providing high quality orchids from around the world, for breeding and for sale. Before he retired he had won a further 26 Gold Medals from the RHS for his exhibits, and only once had a Silver Gilt medal. His Phalaenopsis plants were unsurpassed at this time in the UK and in 2008 the annual Ray Bilton Trophy was inaugurated at the Peterborough International Orchid Show and awarded to the best amateur grower of a Phalaenopsis exhibited at that show.
He co-authored Orchids for Everyone (1980) and House Plants: Flowering and Foliage Plants, Cacti, Succulents and Orchids (1996). With Mike Tibbs he published Orchids: an Illustrated Identifier and Guide to Cultivation (1990) which was translated into German; and Growing Classic Orchids (1998).
He joined the RHS Orchid Committee in 1971, becoming vice-chairman in 1986, and served for nearly 40 years. His expertise in the judging of Cymbidium and Odontoglossum was invaluable and always respected. He was also a member of the RHS Advisory Panel on Orchid Registration. He was honoured in 1997 with the award of the Gold Veitch Memorial Medal and in 2004 with the RHS’s highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour, for his services to orchids and their hybridising. He tutored and helped the newcomers to the Committee, and since his death I have received many tributes to his kindness from erstwhile students and colleagues. He was proactive in supporting UK amateur orchid societies both with plants for displays and with lectures, and we all have many reasons to be grateful to him. Further tributes are being published in the Odontoglossum Alliance Newsletter in the United States, as well as in this country.
In the words of a contributor to the on-line Orchid Forum ‘Ray was one of the last major English orchidists of a Golden Age that stretched from the post-second World War era to the flood of mass market clones. He belonged to that age and indeed exemplified the time when good orchids were rare and sought after’. We miss him.
Dr Henry Oakeley
Sarah "Mickey" Carmichael passed away peacefully at home surrounded by her family December 19. Born in Rural Rutherford County, TN in 1920. Sarah moved to Indianapolis, IN with her first husband and worked at Eli Lilly for 11 years. Mickey remarried Gilbert Carmichael in 1947 whom she met attending dance lessons. The Carmichael's relocated to Miami in 1952 and had two children Gale O'Connor and Lisa Carmichael. Mickey enjoyed sewing and making her own clothes. Mickey developed a love for plants beginning with grafting hibiscus. After attending a couple Orchid Shows she purchased one and this hobby eventually led to starting her own nursery Mickey’s Orchids in 1962. Mickey was known for being a great story teller, always happy to share her adventures. Mickey loved making her own Orchid Hybrids and eventually passed the business on to her daughter Gale. Mickey was a member of several Orchid Societies-Fort Lauderdale, Sunrise, Plantation, Miami and the American Orchid Society. She was also a life member of the Eastern Star. Mickey was predeceased by her husband Gilbert in 1974 and survived by two daughters Gale O'Connor, Lisa Carmichael, and a grandson Dan O'Connor. Mickey was loved by many and will be missed by all who knew her. A Life Celebration will be held January 12 at Secret Woods Nature Center, 2701 W. State Rd. 84, Dania Beach, FL, from 2-4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to: Lucanus Developmental Center: 6411 Taft St. Hollywood, FL 33024.
Tom Fennell (Thomas Anderson Fennell) was fascinated with orchids since he was a small boy growing up in Coral Gables. As a young man, he busied himself at the Orchid Jungle near Homestead, Florida, working weekends and school holidays with his dad, Tom Fennell, Jr. He attended Coral Gables Elementary School and Coral Gables High School, where his interests led him further to appreciate plants and their biology. From Coral Gables High School, he began studies at Miami Dade Community College, after which his fondness for plants inspired him to relocate to the tropics, where he began further botanical studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and beyond. Most recently Tom was building his City Plants business, helping people beautify their living spaces with the plants he loved so much. He spent his lifetime with plants and maintained his love of them until his tragic and untimely death on December 8, 2012. Tom was a gracious person interested in people, and unswerving from his many social graces. He was known for his kindness and integrity. He was born in Miami in 1953. Tom married Susan Stern in Gainesville in 1980 and is survived by his devoted and loving wife Susan and their three children, Carl, Philip, and Risa, much beloved by both Tom and Susan. Tom is also survived by his two sisters, Trudy Lynn Guest and Anita Andrews and his many friends. Tom will be missed by all who knew him. His loss is immeasurable. He was in the true sense of the word, a gentleman. Services were held at Congregation Beth David on Tuesday.
Benjamin Erik Singer was born in 1943 in the village of Enkhuizen some thirty miles northeast of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. His mother and father had an immense influence on Ben’s life, and Ben openly admitted that he truly admired (perhaps idolized) his father, who was a well-respected and highly talented tulip grower. In one of my visits to Ben, we drove to the Hortus Bulborum, a botanical preserve dedicated to the preservation of Holland’s flowering bulb plants. Ben was especially proud to show me one of his father’s tulip hybrids that was growing there.
Leaving school in 1959 because he found it wanting in stirring his interests, Ben eventually started working for G. A. de Jong, the founder of the modern Dutch orchid nursery, and after two years of his apprenticeship with De Jong, he left and started his own nursery, retaining cordial relations with his teacher.
Ben was nothing if not ambitious, but he understood the need for being knowledgeable about orchids and their culture, and obtained his special orchid education by talking with established growers at home in Holland, but also abroad, especially England and Germany. In 1963 he learned about meristemming, and using that process Ben introduced meristemmed miniature cymbidiums to the orchid world of Europe. Success followed with business expansion, awards and international recognition. But Ben grew tired of the business after ten years, and sold it in 1979, preferring a non-business life, which continued to be dedicated to the love of orchids, and his very personal love of the books, which provided him the knowledge to be so successful.
In 2000, Ben made a large donatio to the American Orchid Society as well as his world-class collection of books and papers about orchids. Ben loved to travel and visited many places in both hemispheres, including a world-wide tour sometime after his marriage. In 2000, he returned to Holland, and purchased the home in Wijdenes where he lived for the remainder of his life. He built his orchid house and filled it with many tropical species. And he continued to build his library, purchasing books – new and old – for the library almost until the end.
Beyond this very incomplete and inadequate summary of his life, I would like to add some personal remarks about his memorial service in Hoorn on December 23rd.
Under cool and misty winter skies, approximately sixty friends and acquaintances gathered together with Ben’s family in what was once the receiving building for the East India Company. We came to Hoorn to pay our respects to Ben, to deliver condolences to his family, and to share some very special memories about Ben Singer. The American Orchid Society played a major role in Ben's life and many of the people gathered together were well aware of his place in the AOS, of his gift of his library to the Society, and of the many friends whom he came to know through his many years in the AOS. During a more private gathering with his family, it was stated by a life-long friend, that Ben had many more friends outside of Holland than he did within the Netherlands.
Holding back tears, his life-long friend, Jan Jaap spoke of their travels together to many places around the world; Rita, a former laboratory worker in his Cymbidium business, (who also translated some of the Dutch for me), reminisced about being an assistant in meristemming orchids for Ben. Janna, a long-time and close friend of the Singer family, recalled Ben's love for his mother and father and of the intense joy and happiness he experienced after his daughter, Laelia, was born. Jan, a colleague in orchid books from the area, spoke briefly about his and Ben's chats about books and how much he learned from Ben. I spoke of my visits to Ben, which began with my principal interest in the library, but which shortly turned into my visits to my friend, Ben Singer, who just happened to have an orchid book collection that he had given to the AOS.
The following day (Christmas eve), Ben’s daughter Laelia, his wife Eugenia, her sister, Flor, Ben's friend Jan Jaap, and I followed Ben's hearse for our final farewells. Ben's ashes will be laid to rest next to his mother and father in Wijdenes, his and their village, a short distance from Hoorn, and not far from where he was born.
A more complete article, written by Ben’s good friend and fellow bibliophile, Ken Roberts, will be published in an upcoming issue of ORCHIDS magazine. See also the story of Ben’s donation in the July 2000 issue of Orchids.