Society management

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Announces 2022 Gold Medal Winners

On March 11, Paul Massie Saunders Sr. died at the age of 89. The second generation leader of Saunders Brothers is survived by his devoted wife of over 65 years, Tatum Newbill Saunders.

A man of many interests, Paul passionately loved God, his family, his country, local history, boxwood, peaches, apples, Indian artifacts, antique farm equipment and Virginia Tech.

Born on November 8, 1933, to Mildred Massie Saunders and Samuel Edmund Saunders, Paul lived most of his life at “Tye Brook”, his family home in Nelson County, Virginia.

In 1947, an eighth-grade science teacher taught Paul how to propagate boxwood. Paul was fascinated by the process and thanks to the enthusiasm of his mother and his county agent, Paul started a nursery. In the summer of 1955, Paul, then an agricultural officer, met Tatum, a graduate of UVA nursing school, at a 4-H event near her home in Franklin County, Virginia. They married on August 18, 1956.

Paul loved the farm but struggled to support his growing family which soon numbered seven sons. To ensure a stable cash flow, he continued the family tradition of land surveying. However, he hated property line disputes that required him to be in court. In 1981, after surveying some 3,000 plots for 20 years, a copper-headed snake bit him as he emerged from a stream. Soon after, he used the snake as a valid excuse to stop surveying and devote all his time to his true love, the nursery and the orchards.

In the 1960s, he began shipping his boxwood to garden centers across Virginia and Maryland. Early on, he recognized problems with the predominant variety of English boxwood and began researching better cultivars. Paul helped establish 60 test sites from New England to Chicago south to Memphis and the Carolinas. Colleges, universities, botanical gardens, arboretums and individuals participated in an evaluation project aimed at introducing new varieties to the industry.

Throughout his life, Paul took Tatum with him on his travels and they worked as a team. The business has grown, and with the help of many dedicated workers, Saunders Brothers, Inc. now grows and ships plants throughout the mid-Atlantic region and has supplied boxwood to the White House, the Longwood Gardens and other historic sites.

In the early 2000s, Paul published a 600-page book Heartbeats of Nelson, in which he took great interest in meeting other Nelsonians and curating photos and stories of Nelson County from the American Civil War to Hurricane Camille. He then published Down on the Farm and Memories of the Packing Shed, collections of stories and photos. He was delighted to reflect on the people the farm had brought into his life.

Paul was a loyal alumnus of the Virginia Tech Class of 1954 and held football game season tickets for more than 50 years. He liked to load up his family and friends and drive to Blacksburg on Saturday mornings. All of his sons and 18 grandchildren have graduated or are now enrolled at Virginia Tech.

For the past few years, on Saturday mornings during fruit harvest at 11 a.m. sharp, Paul rang loudly at the Saunders Brothers Farmer’s Market. He would then warmly lead anyone visiting the Farmer’s Market singing “God Bless America”. Paul would give free ice cream to all the American veterans present, and then of course get some himself if Tatum wasn’t there!

Paul was the younger brother of Rebecca Saunders Anderson Tucker and Samuel Edmund Saunders Jr., both of whom predeceased him. Paul and Tatum raised seven biological sons, Paul Massie Jr. (Joyce), Thomas Newbill (Lyn), Julian Bennett (Lynn), James William (Amy), Robert Edmund (Pat), John Tatum (Ruth) and Samuel Ferguson ( Alisha), as well as 35 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Two other young men became members of the Saunders family and were treated as brothers, Frank Sirois and Ivan (Galina) Morozov. Blood relationship was not a prerequisite for being part of Paul and Tatum’s family. They loved people from all walks of life unconditionally.

The family encourages visits to Saunders Brothers Farm Market located at 2717 Tye Brook Highway, Piney River, Va., on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Please dress comfortably for the weather. A Celebration of Life will be held at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, March 17, 2022 at Calvary Baptist Church in Lovingston, Va. with Pastor John Campbell and the Reverend Roger Roller, followed by interment at Harewood Cemetery at 700 Harewood Lane, Roseland, Va. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Horticultural Research Institute, 2130 Stella Ct., Columbus, OH 43215, or Rose Union Baptist Church, 955 Tye Brook Highway, Piney River, VA 22964.

Family and friends can sign her virtual guestbook at Arrangements are under the direction of Wells/Sheffield Funeral Chapel, Lovingston, Va., (434-263-4097).