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Remembering Coach Dooley: The Renaissance Man

Remembering Coach Dooley: The Renaissance Man

Thoughts from his gardening friend, Dr. Mike Dirr

Coach, as everyone knows, was unique. He was always the gentleman. Never met a stranger. I told him and others, he was a renaissance man dressed in football coach’s clothing. He was a scholar and carried the most important gene for lifelong learning...inquisitiveness. I cherish the time with him in the past 27 years from when he walked into my classroom in 1995- 96. We became gardening buddies, bonded by mutual respect. His insatiable appetite for information continued to polish his sharp-edged mind. Barbara told me gardening gave him a new passion and, indeed, he became the most famous gardener in Athens and the State. He loved to work in the garden; planting, pruning, and leading tours. His garden book, The Horticultural Journey of a Football Coach, is a great read. He threaded people, places, and plants into the narrative about his horticultural obsession. Left no stone unturned in searching for the next great plant for his garden.

I was unsure about what led him to my classroom. Probably inquisitiveness. I know the students were in awe and not sure what to make of his presence. He attended lectures, the campus tree/shrub walks, and traveled with the class to out of state field trips. Before exams, he always wished the students good fortune, but then went back to work as Athletic Director. His Hydrangea macrophylla was one of the few to survive the cold and flower in 1996. Logically, it was named ‘Dooley’, propagated, shared with growers, and botanical gardens, and has traveled the world. I asked Coach whether he would be interested in attending The International Hydrangea Conference, Ghent, Belgium, in 2007. This was a few days before the conference. Somehow Barbara found him a ticket. We toured the great Hydrangea collection, Varengevillesur-mer, France, owned by Robert and Corinne Mallet. Robert noticed Coach’s name tag and announced in melodic French English, “Coach Dooley, your hydrangea is in our collection.”

An exemplary life, well lived, rich with experiences, he believed that education was a lifelong journey of the mind. There was always another question that needed answering. I miss Coach and our time together.