Dr. Frank Edward Sherman


Dr. Frank Edward Sherman Frank Edward Sherman, my father, was born on October 31, 1914 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. My grandfather was an itinerant jack-of-all-trades and my grandmother a schoolteacher. From an early age, Dad showed an interest in medicine, representative of his love of humanity and his lifelong desire to help people.

He was educated at the University of Pittsburgh, earning his MD in 1938. A bout of tuberculosis kept him from enlisting for duty in World War II, much to his chagrin as we discovered after his death when a series of letters to the US Army surfaced wherein he repeatedly asked to be admitted to the medical corps or the reserve. His early life has been enlivened for us, his family, by anecdotes he chose to tell us or that we learned from our grandparents as kids. All of those stories underlined his sense of humor and his love of life.

Dad chose pathology as his medical specialty partly, I think, because he liked to get at the root of things, to find out why things happen and so to better understand them and deal with them. He joined the staff of the Childrenís Hospital of Pittsburgh in 1954. What he felt was his crowning professional achievement was the publication, in 1963, of An atlas of congenital heart disease, considered at the time a major text on the subject. So engrossed and intent was he in the preparation of and research for this book that he would bring home jars of hearts in formaldehyde and line them up on the dining room table where they stayed through meals, homework and the occasional game of cribbage.

His desire to share his knowledge, his wisdom and his experience led him to be affiliated throughout his medical career with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where he started as Instructor of Pathology in 1943. He became a full Professor of Pathology in 1967 and following his retirement in 1976 was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor. He loved teaching, as he loved learning. I like to think that some of him has rubbed off on the hundreds of students he taught and that they carry with them some of his humility and his compassion and his generous spirit.

When he retired, he quickly adapted to his new life of so-called leisure. He bought a small house on Plantation Key, an area where our family had spent many vacations over the years. There he hoped to spend his days puttering and fishing - another of his lifelong loves. But, as it often does, fate intervened. He made a new friend, another retired pathologist who was an orchid enthusiast. Having gardened most of his life in the North, Dad took to orchid culture immediately and enthusiastically. He turned one of the rooms in his little house into a laboratory and set up test tubes, growing lights, seed trays, basket making materials and bags and bags of sphagnum, peat moss and fertilizer. He made a concerted effort at hybridizing, but if anything ever came of it, he never bragged about it or even told his family that he had created something new. In a short time, his collection started to outgrow his limited garden space, so instead of cutting back (which was never a serious option with him), he bought an adjoining lot and turned it into a shade area/nursery for his rapidly multiplying collection. His interest in orchids engendered an increasing interest in all epiphytic plants and his collection soon began to include bromeliads, tillandsias, and whatever else struck his fancy. Gradually the bromeliads won out - whether because he felt that orchids were too much work or required too much patience to see fruition, I donít know. But most of the orchids were either given away or sold and the bromeliads took over.

With this initial interest in orchids, Dad and his friend Steery Branning, would drive up to Miami at least once a month to meetings or shows or sales at Fairchild and wherever else their interest took them. His regular drives at night on US1 finally spurred my mother into issuing an ultimatum. If Dad wanted to pursue his botanical interests, she did not want him doing so much driving at night down that dangerous stretch of road. And so they moved up onto the mainland in 1984 and settled in the Pinecrest area - a short and comfortable drive from Fairchild. Dad immediately turned his hand to the garden which was transformed from an average grassed lot with a few trees and fewer plants into an oasis of color, texture and variety. As his knowledge of bromeliads grew so did his collection which, when itemized last year during the settling of his estate, numbered close to 4,000 plants. And not a single blade of grass, a fact he continually bragged about. I remember other houses we lived in growing up and most of them had only small grassed lawns where kids could play and pets run. And as we got older, the lawns got smaller. Front yards were replanted in ivy and flowering shrubs and dotted with hundreds of flowering spring bulbs - another of Dadís favorites and the one garden item he missed most living in Florida. Back yards were converted to flower beds and patios. Iím not even sure that Dad owned a lawn mower at his last house in Pittsburgh - there certainly wasnít much grass to mow.

Dr. Sherman's yardDr. Sherman's yard As Dadís knowledge and collection of bromeliads increased, so did his readiness to share both with friends, fellow gardeners, neighbors, even strangers. It was not unusual to see Dad out in the garden with people trailing behind him while he identified and explained his garden to them. Children were one of his favorite audiences - he loved to take them through the garden and teach them the love and the beauty of the natural world. He considered no question to be a stupid one, and answered every one thoughtfully and intelligently and patiently - never speaking down to his audience even though there might be an age difference of 80 years.

Staff at Fairchild have told us stories of Dad pulling up in his little station wagon with the back full to bursting with bromeliads to give to the Ramble, or a show, or just to add to the existing landscape of the Garden. He liked spending time here, swapping stories, trading plants, or just wandering through the grounds or the greenhouses soaking up the beauty and variety and always looking for something new to add to his own garden. After he won nearly all the prizes available at the annual Bromeliad Society shows, he stopped entering plants in competition, they were for exhibit only. He didnít want the blue ribbons, the crystal prizes - he just wanted others to share his appreciation of the beauty of the plants themselves. Iíve been told that he would give away award-winning plants to anyone who admired them. This was another of his qualities - his generosity. At his home, one would frequently see a sign in the front yard that read "Free plants" and there would be dozens of them for the taking as he tired of one species and added another or as his seeds all germinated and there just wasnít enough space. His plants are everywhere in Dade and Monroe Counties and probably in many other counties throughout the state and I know of at least one in Colorado. Many many gardens have benefited from his generosity and his knowledge. In his correspondence with a fellow bromeliad enthusiast in South Africa, Dad would often include seeds that he had taken from his own plants for species unavailable there. One of the most touching stories that I heard in the months after his death was from a police officer who said that although he had never met my father, he knew of him through his generosity because one of the people working in his department lived in the Pinecrest area and had been given several bromeliads from Dadís garden. As one of these plants was potted and in the office, this officer, knowing its provenance, now admires it with new understanding and appreciation of the man from whom it came.

Fairchild Tropical Garden Fairchild Tropical Garden was his second home. He spent hundreds of hours here and donated much of his time and his considerable horticultural knowledge and effort to making this a people place and enhancing its attraction and accessibility to the people of Miami. It was at his suggestion that admission to the Garden be free on Sunday mornings. His family is very proud of this fact and it was only after his death that we knew of it. Another of his qualities was his humility - he was satisfied to know himself that he had done something worthwhile; he didnít need to broadcast it. As part of his final requests, he instructed his family to allow the Fairchild Tropical Garden to take as many of his plants as they wished for use here in the landscaping or the nurseries, or for research. The horticultural staff indeed followed up on this invitation and have relocated almost 900 of his plants to the grounds and nurseries. His legacy lives on at Fairchild.

My father died tragically on October 24 1998, the victim of a random act of violence. His death has given us pause to remember those things that were important to him - people and nature. We, his children and his grandchildren, have followed his lead in adopting Fairchild Tropical Garden as a special place in our own lives, an oasis of quiet, calm and beauty in a turbulent city and a turbulent world. Wandering through this magnificent landscape, there is always an overwhelming sense of peace and stability. To maintain and augment this sanctuary continues the legacy of Frank Sherman.

Missy Hillman
Ottawa Ontario Canada

The following is from the December, 1999 issue of the Bromeliadvisory, the newsletter of the Bromeliad Society of South Florida


Dedication plaque

About two dozen members of BSSF joined the family and friends of Dr. Frank Sherman at Fairchild Tropical Garden on October 31st 1999. The occasion was the dedication of the Epiphyte Tree in his memory.

Craig Allen, the conservatory manager, created the tree using a number of Frank's bromeliads, and also ferns, orchids, aroids and other epiphytes. Larger bromeliads from Frank's collection have been distributed throughout the Garden.

Tom Hillman and
Craig Allen
Epiphyte Tree
Tom Hillman and Craig Allen Epiphyte Tree Epiphyte Tree Epiphyte Tree
The 'tree' works well. The branches, created with a layer of cork attached to PVC pipe, spread like an old oak tree and the attached plants look as if they've been growing there for years. A brass plaque has been attached to a large rock at the base of the tree, commenorating the event. Be sure to check it out on your next visit to the garden.

We were very glad to welcome Frank's daughter, Missy Hillman, and her husband Tom to the November meeting. Missy addressed the meeting, expressing her gratitude for the support of our members during the past year.

Frank's family underwrote the cost of building the epiphyte tree. It is a fitting memorial for a man who loved all plants, and for whom Fairchild Tropical Garden was a favorite spot.

Photos Courtesy Missy Hillman