C. Duane Reeves, who served as a White House florist during President Eisenhower's second term and later was a noted teacher and lecturer at Phipps Conservatory, died Thursday of cancer at his Edgewood home. He was 74.
As a presidential florist, Mr. Reeves participated in some of the best known floral moments of the Eisenhower White House. It was a time when First Lady Mamie Eisenhower enjoyed celebrating the changing of seasons with grand floral productions.
During the second Eisenhower term, Mr. Reeves worked for a Washington florist shop that was the White House favorite. In 1958 he helped Mrs. Eisenhower decorate 27 trees with electric candle lights, glass balls and loads of tinsel. For a St. Patrick's Day, columns were twined with green ribbons and top hats, with shamrocks hanging from chandeliers, leprechauns in the State Dining Room, and green carnations and bells-of-Ireland in flower bowls, according to the 1973 book "Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Lady" by former chief usher J.B. West.
One Easter there were butterflies hanging from chandeliers and artificial birds singing with tape-recorded voices. "Would you please shut off the birds?" Mrs. Eisenhower supposedly told the butler.
During this time Mr. Reeves polished his knowledge of flowers and European history so that he could better match arrangements to the period furniture in various White House rooms.
"There wasn't anything you could ask him that he didn't know," said Georgeanna Spinello, who knew Mr. Reeves for 33 years. He used her Murrysville store, Buttercup Floral & Gift Shoppe, as a base of operations for more than three decades for his floral jobs at major Pittsburgh functions.
His Washington knowledge served him well in his Phipps Conservatory classes, whether the topic was Egyptian flowers or Flemish arrangements of the 1700s. But he also taught beginner classes, and it was at one of those in 1983 where he changed Margo Gray's life.
At the time, she was a server at the Wheeling, W.Va. Country Club. She was interested in floral design but didn't have the money or time for classes. She was introduced to Mr. Reeves one day at the club, where he was preparing for a function.
"I thought I was going to be hopeless," Ms. Gray said, joking that her first class at Phipps was probably called "Flower Stem 101."
Ms. Gray took more than two dozen of his classes and later opened her own floral arrangement business in Wheeling for large parties and weddings.
For years afterward, whenever Ms. Gray had a floral problem, she'd call her mentor.
"I never stopped learning from Duane," she said.
He is survived by an extended family and many friends.
He will be buried at Quaker Cemetery in Barnesville, Ohio.
Memorial contributions can be made to Oglebay's Institute Mansion Museum, 1330 National Road, Wheeling, W.Va. 26003.
Steve Levin can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1919.