Dr. Carolyn: Memories from Our Friendship

Posted by Mike Dunton on 6/15/2019 to Company News
Dr. Carolyn: Memories from Our Friendship
I have always worked at keeping a connection to the past and respecting history. History is an integral part of the life path I chose to follow. Perhaps it chose me.

Part of maintaining this connection is to reminisce about experiences, events, and the special people that have been a part of my journey. Dr. Carolyn Male was one of those characters woven into my story.

Like many people, I first became aware of Carolyn through my passion for heirloom tomatoes which led to my purchase of her book entitled, "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden."

Over the years, I followed her through her posts on various gardening sites, and may have even participated in some "conversations." But it wasn't until one evening in 2002, at the encouragement of author Andrew W. Smith, that I got up enough nerve to send her an email. That conversation led to a friendship that lasted until her passing yesterday morning, June 14, 2019.

The Carolyn that I knew had a strong personality, tough, could be very blunt and direct, definitely rubbed some people the wrong way, but had a soft side that could also be sweet and sensitive. I am sure that all of her friends (and frenemies) have their stories to tell that are very different from my relationship with her.

I believe that most people will agree that she was extremely passionate about heirloom tomatoes. Others will acknowledge that her annual seed distributions were something to look forward to.

I didn't participate in her seed distributions only because over the years I had earned her trust, and I hope respect, and she treated me more like a colleague; although I thought of her as a mentor.

She would take time to review the histories and descriptions I would write about new additions to our seed catalog, correct me as needed, notice that there were varieties missing from our offerings, and send seeds.

For example, early in the Victory Seed Company's history, we only offered a couple of varieties of paste-type tomatoes. She corrected that right away by offering suggestions as well as sending seeds for several varieties [found here].

Over the years, Carolyn sent me dozens of varieties that she thought were important to preserve and keep available to gardeners. Using this link [click here], you can find varieties that she either sent to us or ones that she wrote about in her book.

Although our "chatting" was primarily limited to phone conversations and email messages, I did get the opportunity to visit her at her home in 2010 when we extended a business trip to Upstate New York into a family vacation.

Carolyn Male & Mike Dunton - 2010
By this time, Carolyn had already experienced serious health issues that had started to limit her mobility.

Denise (my better half and co-founder of Victory Seed Co.), as well as our two youngest children, spent the afternoon visiting and getting to know each other apart from the subject of tomatoes.

As the day progressed, we phoned in an order to one of Carolyn's favorite local restaurants, and shared a meal together before we had to hit the road to make it to Albany that evening.

Learning of her passion for good, dark chocolate, Denise would keep an eye out for something special and send it to her every Christmas.

For the past few years as her health continued to decline, her posts and correspondences became sporadic, then fewer and far in between.

Although she is no longer with us, her impact and influence on the heirloom tomato community will endure through the varieties she was involved in sharing with gardeners over the decades.

Thank you, Dr. Carolyn!


Date 6/17/2019
Craig LeHoullier
Really beautifully written, Mike - a lovely tribute to a giant of the heirloom gardening world. We really are losing so many of the foundations of collections catalyzed by founding of the Seed Savers Exchange. all the best, friend Craig
Mike Dunton
Thank you, Craig. I know what you mean about the old "foundation" of the SSE movement. So many of the original preservationists are now either gone, retired, or moved onto other phases of their lives. So many of the original companies and organizations that were instrumental in the movement are also gone or drastically changed for the worse. It feels so weird for me to come to the realization that we have moved into the role once held by my heroes. Thinking about all of this produces a very odd mixture of feelings - sadness, nostalgia, concern, loss, fear, hope - whenever I think about the future of the biodiversity preservation movement. Aside from eulogizing a loss like this one, reading the Seeds Savers Exchange's "The First Ten Years: 1975-1985," triggers the same emotions! Nearly everyone in there has moved on in one way or another! Best, Mike
Date 12/1/2019
William Bronson
Dr Male was my mentor in college. Yes her love for dark chocolate...lol... We started a farm in SC and we are big into following her path with heirloom seeds. Any help would be appreciated.
Mike D.
Hi William ... Thank you for sharing. She will be missed.
Date 12/26/2019
April Campbell
Lovely. I followed her posts on Tomatoville. Ive tried several of her favorite varieties. Farewell to a fellow curmudgeon.
Date 1/6/2020
Sharon Rossy
Carolyn was one of a kind. She will be truly missed. I still expect to see a post from her commenting on some variety or seed. Thank you for the lovely story about her.

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