To recognize the late Christine Cole’s accomplishments and keep her memory alive, the city of Mount Dora and her husband, Gene Packwood, planted and dedicated a magnolia tree at Simpson Cove near Granthum Point Park in March.
MOUNT DORA — In 1994, Christine Cole founded the Mount Dora Plant and Garden Fair and spent the next 25 years of her life to making it into one of Mount Dora’s most popular annual festivals.
Sadly, Cole died of cancer in November, just a week after the festival’s 25th annual celebration.
To recognize her accomplishments and keep her memory alive, the city of Mount Dora and her husband, Gene Packwood, planted and dedicated a magnolia tree at Simpson Cove near Granthum Point Park in March.
"At the closing of the ceremony, two of her college friends and I poured out her ashes and worked them into the soil at the base of the tree," Packwood said. "Now Christine’s remains can nourish this tree the way she nourished the plant and garden fair."
Packwood and Cole met in 1994 at a Fourth of July celebration in Mount Dora.
"It was an old-fashioned celebration with fun and games," Packwood said. "I was there with the Lion’s Club running a lasso game and Christine had signed up to let people throw pies in her face. I watched as a little girl ran up and threw a pie right in her face, but it wasn’t whipped cream. It was shaving cream. She screamed and had to be helped to get the shaving cream out of her face. I waited for her at the bar to see if she was all right and we just hit it off."
Packwood was on the board of directors for the Mount Dora Lion’s Club that year and told Cole all about their plans for a plant sale fundraiser, which Cole "took and ran with."
"She saw what it could become," Packwood said. "She wanted to make it a major event by inviting plant experts from all over to participate. Over the summer we drove all over Florida personally talking to growers who were experts in their specific fields and that November we held the first Plant and Garden Fair."
Packwood was working as an editorial cartoonist for The Daily Commercial and each year created the posters for the fair. Cole was a writer for The Orlando Sentinel.
"We were rivals but not competitors," Packwood laughed. "She was a writer, I drew pictures."
Toward the end of her life, Cole suffered from heart problems which made it harder to run the fair, and had already appointed Janet Gamache to take over for her.
Unfortunately, Cole’s health did not allow her to attend the 25th annual festival, which Packwood said was really hard on her. A week later she was admitted into the hospital for heart issues, where she was diagnosed with advanced cancer and died just days later.
"I never got to say goodbye," Packwood said. "I wanted some way of honoring her memory and the mayor (Cathy Hoechst) and I agreed planting the magnolia tree would be a beautiful reminder of everything she did."
Hoeschst was present at the dedication ceremony along with two other counsel members and two of Cole’s college friends from the class of 1969. Packwood said a dedication plaque will be added once the soil settles.