It is with a heavy heart that we share news of the passing of our friend Richard Dufresne (pronounced Doofrane), 75, who passed away this month at his home in Candor, North Carolina. Rich was truly a one of a kind…a 1972 graduate of Carnegie Melon with a PhD in chemistry. After graduation, Rich did the post-doc shuffle, first at Johns Hopkins, then Brandeis University, and finally UMass, before signing on with Lorillard Tobacco Company in North Carolina as a flavor chemist. There, he researched organic chemical compounds to flavor tobacco. What else could you do with three post docs and a PhD thesis, titled, Thermal cyclizations of 3-(2-arylhydrazino)-3-pyrroline derivatives: a study of the Fischer indole synthesis?
Rich was a regular at our nursery and garden, where we both benefited from the mutual exchange of plants and information. When Rich last visited us about eight weeks ago, it was obvious to us that we were seeing him for the last time. His health had deteriorated due to a cascade of medical issues and a lifetime of less than healthy eating. His XXL clothes were now tightly strapped to a frail frame that was only a shadow of the Rich we’d seen earlier in the year.
I first met Rich in the mid 1980s at a North American Rock Garden Society meeting, where he was extolling the virtues of the salvias he’d brought for show and tell. Rich would always drive the meeting organizers nuts since he had no “off switch” or ability to read social cues. Rich was ridiculously brilliant, had an unquenchable passion for salvias and their relatives, but also had a uniquely wired brain that left him only marginally functional in society.
What Rich did so well was to connect people with plants and other plant people. He used every form of communication possible to share knowledge far and wide, including his website, WorldofSalvias.com. Rich has done more for the world of ornamental salvias worldwide than probably anyone in the last century. His early introductions like Salvia ‘Marashino’, Salvia ‘Dark Dancer’, Agastache ‘Tutti Fruitti’, and others were the first hybrid clones in both genera that started a horticultural revolution.
Rich’s chemistry job allowed him to buy a house, start a garden, and a small backyard nursery in nearby Greensboro, NC. Sadly, it in the mid-1990s, Rich was dismissed from his chemistry job, due to his remarkable inability to complete even the most basic tasks or focus on anything for a meaningful period of time. Shortly after loosing his job, Rich also lost his house, garden, and greenhouse since, despite not working, he couldn’t manage to find time to file for unemployment benefits, until he was hauled to the Unemployment office by friends. Because of his mental health issues dealing with focus, Richard would never be able to find another job, despite the best efforts of friends who tried to help.
To try and make ends meet, Rich would propagate an array of salvias and drive cross country to sell them at plant fairs, despite loosing money simply traveling to each event. In many ways,
Despite his brilliance, Rich was like a naive child who needed protecting from both himself and others. Were it not for the kindness of a plethora of friends who kept Richard supported financially, there’s little doubt he would have been homeless, instead of living in the marginally habitable houses he inhabited during the later years of his life.
Despite being perpetually followed by black clouds, (no rubber left on his tires when he tried to run errands, getting mistaken for a drug dealer and put in jail briefly last fall because of his license plate “Salvia”, and only recently taking a financial hit after falling prey to one of the prevalent Social Security phone scams, Rich was the eternal optimist. Even during his last visit, he was so excited about his ambitious plans for the upcoming year during his recent visit. True to the end, he managed to bring a new salvia to share, which is now flowering in his memory.
Rich was not only incredibly kind, but passionate about sharing, and his legacy will live on through all the plants and information he shared. We will continue to keep his WorldofSalvia.com site alive as an informational archive and tribute to this great plantsman.
Thankfully, a year ago, Rich was finally honored by the North American Rock Garden Society with the Marcel LePiniac Award at its national meeting. It was our honor to know Rich for 30+ years, so thank you my friend for all you did…life well lived!
Here is a link to a wonderful article about Richard, written by Tovah Martin over a quarter century ago.