Dr. Helen Dexter


by Karen Andreas

Dr. Helen Dexter

Longtime bromeliad grower and friend Helga Tarver writes of the passing of a legendary bromeliad grower and friend, Dr. Helen Dexter, who died on September 20 of this year.

"What a wonderful lady and what an interesting life she had. Dr. Helen Dexter and her husband, Dr. Morris Dexter, joined the Florida West Coast Bromeliad Society and the Bromeliad Society International in the early 1950s. Both were our delegates to the Council for several years.

"Dr. Helen had a plant named for her: Aechmea 'Helen Dexter', a cultivar of Aechmea apocalyptica with creamy margins.Aechmea 'Helen Dexter'

"A description of their yard in Belleair, Florida, was published in the Grande Magazine Volume 1 Number 2 Fall 1978 ("A Visit to a Private Collection, The Doctors Dexter" by Alton Lee)."

The Doctors Dexter were well known to bromeliad enthusiasts for their love of bromeliads and their impressive and renown collection. Many of our bromeliad friends, however, have little idea of the very full and interesting life Dr. Helen Dexter lived.

Born in Cincinnati, Dr. Dexter lived and traveled throughout the world, from France to Russia, to Alaska, where her interest in archaeology was born. She majored in archaeology at Bryn Mawr College and worked in her first profession in Russia. Upon her return to the United States, she studied medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, one of only four women in her class. She was one of the first female doctors in the Clearwater area, where she did not tolerate discrimination and treated her patients with compassion and accepted creative payments such as produce or chickens.

She married Dr. Morris Dexter in 1935 and worked as a physician during the Second World War while Dr. Morris Dexter served in the Navy. After the war, she completed her training as a dermatologist, and the family moved to Belleair in 1954. Dr. Helen Dexter was active in her community, serving as a Commissioner on the Belleair City Council for three terms.

The bromeliad community has lost a stalwart and legendary friend in Dr Helen Dexter. Dr. Morris Dexter died in 1992 and their daughter Katharine died in 2001. Dr, Helen Dexter is survived by her son William Dexter, daughters Helen Dalzell (Robert) and Lissa Dexter and four grandchildren.