I met the kindest gentleman one day, while strolling through the spider daylilies at Oakes in Knoxville. It was one of Oakes' annual Open House days, when the Hem Society was in town. He noticed my close attention to the spiders and struck up a conversation, and I told him how wild I was for tall spiders and how unhappy I was that hybridization had gone in other directions that did not please me. I saw that I had found a kindred spirit. He was a tall, quiet man with an easy smile, wearing what I'd describe as "field clothing" including his trademark sun hat; and he was in no hurry. I liked him instantly. He introduced himself simply as Ned. I said, "Are you the Ned of 'Easy Ned'?" and he smiled and said yes. We talked for some time about daylilies and I realized he was a breeder; his intelligence and knowledge were obvious; but I was entirely ignorant of the name "Ned Roberts", or of his stature and many accomplishments---or that he was Dr. Ned Roberts. That's the kind of mild, unpretentious man he was. He met people with genuine interest and attention, without promoting himself.
I was a busy housewife and mother who had driven four hours to Knoxville for what I called "my annual daylily pilgrimage". I never did get around to joining the Hem Society as Ned had urged me to; but miraculously, I met him again two years later----same time, same place. Neither of us had been back to Knoxville until then, and we both chose the same day and hour to visit the spider daylily bed. Lucky me. I was so glad to see him again.
I was heartily sorry to hear of Ned's passing. People can't live forever, but we needed a couple more decades of Ned Roberts. I'm sure he touched thousands of lives---in the way that people who are both kind and insightful do. How lucky all of us were who knew him, even if only for a short afternoon.
I greatly appreciate the family photos posted, allowing me to see those who were dearest to Ned. I will always remember him.