The industry has lost an icon.
Barbara “Bobbi” Ann Ecker Blatchford died Friday, February 3, leaving behind two children and legions of fans throughout the world.
Over the weekend, social media exploded with tributes to the inimitable Bobaloo.
Bobbi’s illustrious career had anything but a conventional beginning. She recounted the story for me back in 2012, when I wrote an article about her induction into the Michigan Floral Association’s Hall of Fame:
She was 16-years old, living with her grandparents in rural Iowa after her parents died. That’s when a yellow airplane landed just yards away. The pilot, Ted Ecker, approached her with a biedermeier bouquet, a gift for “the most glamorous woman in town.”
“That wasn’t me, but I told him, ‘come back tomorrow,’ because I was a lot more interesting than her!” Bobbi said with a laugh.
Ecker did just that, beginning a courtship that spawned one of the most talented, and beloved, designers in the floral world. She started at her husband’s family’s retail flower shop and nursery in Waverly, Iowa, and went on to launch her own company, The Flora Pros in Chicago. Over the course of 60-plus years, she became an award-winning designer, a favorite commentator and a coveted consultant for all segments of the industry, including growers, manufacturers and distributors.
Many organizations recognized Bobbi’s achievements, including the American Institute of Floral Designers, International Floral Expo and the Society of American Florists, which awarded her the Tommy Bright Award, the top honor for floral education. In addition, United Flowers, a division of Preesman, named one its “High and Icon” roses after her. There is also a “Bobbi Cup” floral design competition held in conjunction with the Chicago Flower & Garden Show.
Still, it was her effervescent personality and uncanny ability to make others feel special and extraordinary that so many people recall.
Carol Bice, AAF, AIFD, met Bobbi about 30 years ago when she was playing background piano music for a floral show in Omaha, Nebraska. “I had trouble concentrating because there was an unusual lady on stage entertaining the audience,” Bice said. “She had on a white dress and chartreuse green hose. When she came off the stage, I said…. ‘love the hose’ ( with my sense of deviated humor). We were not introduced and I really didn’t know much about her. Two days later, there was a pair of green hose in my mailbox.” A fast friendship was formed “and lots of strange presents” and heartfelt letters arrived over the years, as the two worked together on numerous occasions, including a program that provided flowers for parents of murdered children — a club that Bobbi unfortunately belonged to. “She experienced a lot of personal tragedy, yet somehow managed to rise above it and exude joy,” Bice said.
Sandy Schroeck, AIFD, PFCI, had similar sentiments. “So sad my idol has gone to heaven. Many times in my life when I was having a hard time, a card appeared in the mail with greeting from Bobbi,” the Eden Prairie, Minnesota designer posted on Facebook. “Winning the Bobbi Cup is one of my prized possessions. I just made plans to be there this year with her! We all know now she is a bright light in the sky guiding us all.”
“In an industry of fairly unique individuals, she was probably the most unique,” said Bill Schodowski, of BeautifullyFresh.com, adding that “Bobbi” enjoyed first name status long before Cher or Madonna came along. When his wife had a serious operation, she received a ball in the mail from Bobbi with the message, “bounce back Maggie!”
“It is impossible for me to say her name without a huge smile,” Schodowski said. “She was ‘one of a kind’ and I know that she is planning one heck of a shindig in heaven.”
There are (literally) hundreds of anecdotes like this online. I tried to read them all, but there were simply too many. For me, I will deeply miss the cute poems she wrote me every year on my birthday. It’s still humbling to believe a legend such as her would be so tuned into my work.
As for her family, they’ve issued this request:
As you prepare for the Valentines holiday, find a hat, decorate it and wear it proudly as you do your magic to bring people happiness through flowers. We hope it brings a little positive energy into your holiday. If mom were around she would probably say “Let’s do it. What a hoot.”
Mom got up every morning with the goal of make other people’s lives better. She believed in the power of flowers to help, heal and inspire hope. As we all move forward, we hope that everyone picks up the mantle and carries on her vision of happiness through flowers.
As mom would say when she would call us way too early in the morning………
“Good things are happening!!!”