Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Brother Tom Perkins -- An International Authority

Photo of  Boozie Becker's Tom Perkins Camellia, courtesy of Patti Perkins, wife of Jim Perkins, forwarded by Boozie Becker's niece, Bettie Hatcher Cox
Most folks around town simply referred to him as Brother. 

Born in 1922, Thomas H. Perkins III was a Bachelor of Science graduate of Louisiana State University, and, shortly thereafter, a WWII Battle of the Bulge war hero and recipient of a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

After his meritorious service, in 1944, Brother Tom returned to his hometown of Brookhaven, and became one of the proprietors of the family business, T.H. Perkins Furniture Co., founded in 1887 by his grandfather.

But there is so much more to his story.

While his livelihood may have come furniture sales, his true passion was reserved for Camellias.  His influence worldwide on the cultivation of ornamental Camellias, Japonica, Sasanqua and Higo, cannot be denied.

Brother traveled the world and introduced several flowers to America, and, of course, to the gardens and greenhouses of historical homes of Old Towne, Brookhaven.

He was active in Camellia societies at all levels and was the first American ever elected to the presidency of the International Camellia Society, serving two terms.

"Thomas Perkins was recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities on this flower and lectured around the world on Camellias, and there is even a Camellia named after him, the 'Thomas Perkins Camellia'. 
"When New Orleans hosted the International Camellia Society, bus loads of visitors from all over the world made the trek to Brookhaven to tour Thomas Perkins' gardens," according to a web article written by Margaret Gratz.
(Please see my recent posts on the horticultural work of Brother Tom's fellow Camellia enthusiast, F.F. "Boozie" Becker II, for information on how this namesake variety came to be.) 

I sincerely hope I am not violating copyrights here, but the following quotes from the same article by Margaret Gratz certainly rang true for me, having spent the better part of my adult life living in a region that is less than ideal for the growth of Camellias:
"Camellias are a quintessential part of the Southern landscape, and if you leave the South, you will, no doubt, nostalgically pine for home when the Camellias begin to bloom. When Eudora Welty was a young woman living in New York City, her mother would cut Camellias from her Jackson garden, wrap them carefully, and mail them to her homesick daughter.  Eventually, Eudora would come home to write and tend her mother's Camellias.
"Floating a Camellia in a cut-glass bowl is a time-honored Southern tradition. Every Mississippi home should have a Camellia bush and an heirloom cut-glass bowl. While the rest of the country shovels snow, Mississippians can go pluck a beautiful Camellia, float it in Grandmother's bowl in the parlor, and chase away the winter doldrums. When it comes to flowering shrubs, the Camellia is a real Southern belle, exuding warmth and charm on a winter's day." 
Brother Tom died on New Year's Day, 2000, but just like that of his friend and fellow Camellia lover, F.F. "Boozie" Becker, his legacy lives on.

Besides the plantings at his former home, a young Camellia garden named in his honor has been established outside the Brookhaven Public Library, featuring many specimens that Perkins introduced into the United States. Please see this link for more information.

Pictures of Brother are rather scarce on the internet, but there any number of hits of the stunning flower cultivated and named in his honor, which, I suspect, would be his preference.  To view his tombstone, which is eloquent in its simplicity, please see this link.

UPDATE: A special thank you to Bill Perkins for locating and scanning these photos of Brother ... 
Brother Tom Perkins -- Photo Courtesy of his nephew, Bill Perkins

Brother Tom Perkins -- Photo Courtesy of his nephew Bill Perkins

1 comment:

  1. These are stunning photos! Your thoughts and the quotes about Thomas Perkins are delightful. My good friend, Rachel Hallas, lived on Perkins Drive directly behind the Perkins camellia garden so when playing outside we were just surrounded by beauty.