Four-O'Clock Flowers Around
the World Cancer Memorial
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Kevin P. Donahoe is once again scattering the seed of his deceased father’s favorite flower from sea to shining sea, and people are planting them throughout the country. It’s us Donahoe’s second annual “Four-o’clocks Across America” campaign, stated last year when he gave away four-o’clock seed from the family’s Metairie garden in memory of his father.
Jim Donahoe was a longshoreman, poet, and gardener who died of cancer in April 1994, just before his beloved plants began opening their bright, sweet blooms for the summer. “He asked me to wheel him out on April 5 to see his four-o’clocks,” Kevin Donahoe said. “They weren’t blooming yet. He died the next morning without seeing them.”
In the following weeks, Donahoe began picking pea-sized seeds off the plants and filling his pockets, feeling they were somehow sacred because his father loved them to. “I thought, if he loved them so much, I’ve got to do something special with them,” Donahoe said. “And then I got this idea about spreading them around to others.” To ensure wide distribution of the easy-to-grow seed, he mailed packets to postmasters throughout the United States, then followed up with mailings to the “first families” of all 50 states and even the White House.
The packets were accompanied by an explanation and appeal from Donahoe, who asked that the seeds be planted in memory of his father. Within the first few months, Jim Donahoe’s seeds were planted in about 150 cities and at the White House, growing into bushes that would fill with trumpet-shaped flowers in magenta, white and yellow. They bloom about 4 p.m. daily throughout the summer.
Back home, the 5,000 members of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation also planted seeds across the state. This year, Donahoe has expanded his effort, partially in response to dozens of letters from others touched by the tragedy of cancer. “I, too, lost my dad to cancer on April 11, 1993. He carried mail out of the Lambertville, Michigan, Post Office for 29 years,” his son, Chris DiTerlizzi, wrote to Donahoe. “Now I am carrying mail on the same route. When I was a child, we always had four-o’clocks planted behind the house. I would love to plant some of your Dad’s seeds at my home.”
“My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 1989 and underwent radiation and chemotherapy,” Lisa Pettyjohn wrote from Waterford, Michigan. “I’m happy to say she’s been cancer free for the past 5 1/2 years.... with spring around the corner, I’d like to plant some along my picket fence in honor of your dad and my mother.”
“I will use these flowers to teach my children, and to remind myself, to pray for a cure for cancer,” promised Mike Sansone of Clifton Park, NY.
The four-o’clocks are no longer a memorial for Jim Donahoe, his son said, but a living tribute to many.
Copyright 2009 New Orleans, Louisiana