Webster, Well-Known Orchid Grower, Dies
Orchid aficionado John "Jack" Webster told The Pilot in a 2001 interview that anyone could grow orchids if they just followed the instructions.
"Orchids don't die," he said. "People kill them."
The well-known Southern Pines resident died Friday at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital. He was 81.
John William Olley Webster was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He spent most of his youth in Aber-deen, Scotland.
"Dad was a bank auditor," he said in the 2001 interview, "and each auditor had to spend a year in Argentina every so often and it so happened that I was born during one of his years there."
He returned to Argentina upon his father's posting to a bank position in Buenos Aires. After attending the Universidad de Buenos Aires and serving two years in the Argentine army, Webster briefly worked for the Ford Motor Co. before joining J. Walter Thompson (JWT), the international advertising agency.
At age 23, he was appointed JWT's manager to Santiago, Chile. It was there he met and married his wife, Jean.
Webster spent the next 30 years in South America, mainly in Argentina, Chile and Peru. He opened and/or managed offices in Chile, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, closing his career as a board member and executive vice president of JWT Worldwide, with responsibility for the company's offices in the southern cone of South America.
The Websters moved to Southern Pines in 1981 after his retirement.
Webster was an accomplished carpenter, making much of the furniture seen in the couple's home today. But his real passion was the growing and care of his large orchid collection.
He was a board member and longtime president of the Triangle and Sandhills Orchid Societies, as well as being an active member of the Triad and Cape Fear Orchid Societies. He organized innumerable orchid shows and traveled extensively representing his societies at orchid events throughout the U.S. and around the world.
"Two things stand out in my mind about Jack," said Paul Virtue, president of the Triangle Orchid Society (TOS). "First was his absolute dedication to passing on his love for orchids. The other was his thrift, a reflection of his Scottish background, when it came to running the affairs of the five orchid societies of which he was a board member over the years."
Virtue said Webster's passion for orchids came from his living in nearly all of the South American countries, where many of the more beautiful orchids originate.
"He would tell stories of trekking through forest and mountain valleys searching for unknown species, and though I don't think he actually found anything that had not already been discovered, it was a testament to his love of orchids," Virtue said.
Virtue said Webster was superb at interacting with even the newest recruits to orchid growing and would give selflessly in promoting the hobby.
"Even in his 80s, he would host orchid days at his home in Southern Pines and would drive 400 miles each month to TOS meetings and board meetings, often recruiting Jean as a driver when his health started to fail," Virtue said.
Jack and Jean Webster were the driving force behind the orchid show held every two years at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, of which they were members, for several years.
"He and Jean put on that orchid show, and it was such a big success," said Norris Hodgkins, who has also been active with the Weymouth Center. "The orchid growers loved it, and the orchid buyers loved it."
Webster was also a member of the Kiwanis Club of the Sandhills.
Kiwanis member Billiegene Garner frequently sat at a table with Webster at the club's weekly meetings.
"He would donate orchids for one of our dinner events each year," she said. "One person from each table got to take an orchid home at the end of the evening, and the ladies certainly liked that."
Garner said that Webster had been a staunch member of the club.
"He attended until his health made him unable to come," she said.
Surviving, in addition to his wife, are his sons, John Webster, of Spain, Mark Webster, of Chapel Hill, and Colin Webster, and Neil Webster, both of Moore County; grandchildren, Veronica, Cristina, Nicholas, Christopher, Alexandra, Ian, Jonathan and Alan; daughters-in-law, Emiliana and Alejandra, and Mark's companion, Kim, and her two sons, Jonathan and Michael.
A memorial service will be held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Southern Pines at 3 p.m. this Friday, and all friends are asked to join the Websters at their home on 220 S. Valley Road in Southern Pines following the service.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Weymouth Center for the Arts or the charity of one's choice.
Contact Faye Dasen at email@example.com or 693-2475.
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