If you’ve called, emailed or stopped by the Society of American Florists’ headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, sometime in the past 18 years, chances are, you talked with Krissy Doyle, the group’s longtime manager of member and data services. Whatever the purpose of your exchange, it probably included a huge smile from Doyle or a burst of her unforgettable laugh — and maybe even a quick rendition of a popular show tune.
Doyle, a driving force behind the association’s membership department for the better part of two decades, died Monday night after a valiant, eight-month battle with cancer. She passed away as she lived — surrounded by family, friends and the music she loved.
“We – like so many businesses in our industry – are like a family here, so the loss and void we are feeling right now is profound,” said Kate Penn, SAF’s CEO. “Krissy had a passion for our industry and what SAF does for our members. Just ask anyone who ever called or emailed to join or, for that matter, drop their SAF membership. Little did they know what they were in for: an impassioned pitch from Krissy on why they need SAF. We all want employees who are passionate about our mission — it’s not something you can train; either it’s there or it’s not. Krissy had that in spades.”
A Focus on Service — and SAF Members
Doyle joined SAF in 2001 — hired in large part because of her expertise managing databases. For a member-focused group such as SAF — an association that prioritizes and depends upon clear, consistent and accurate communication with a broad and diverse member base — Doyle’s role was critical. And, she excelled at the job, said Drew Gruenburg, SAF’s chief operating officer.
“She was a database maven, expert, connoisseur — whatever you want to call it,” Gruenburg said. “I used to give her so many challenging requests in an effort to reach out to targeted sections of our membership. She would look at me, complain and throw up her hands and ask where that crazy idea came from. But then she’d ask the key question: ‘What are you trying to achieve? ‘And from there she would go to work — and was always successful in getting me what I needed.”
Doyle’s long tenure at SAF coincided with many significant changes in the industry — including slowdowns in the economy, consolidation among businesses and the introduction of e-commerce. As her role expanded into recruitment and retention, Doyle heard about these challenges firsthand from members — and she took each conversation to heart.
“Krissy had highly personal relationships with our members, and she would talk in staff meetings about the pain points and challenges she was hearing about, directly from florists,” said Gruenburg. “Behind the scenes, we were able to take a lot of what she heard and use it to help create new programming, services and messaging, to better reflect the situations people faced.”
“We could not have had a better person in our member services department,” Gruenburg added. “Her priority each and every day was serving members.
Doyle’s ability to adapt and grow into new roles was further evidenced in recent years, as she increasingly took on the job of an SAF ambassador, traveling to trade shows and industry events to promote the association and its benefits more directly to potential members. Doyle – extroverted, friendly and welcoming — was a natural at such events, even if traveling to them required her to overcome aversions to certain aspects of traveling.
SAF member Mark Anderson of FloristWare came to affectionately refer to Doyle as “princess”— a nickname she embraced — because she would pepper him with travel-related questions ahead of industry events.
“It would later come out she was obsessed with bed bugs,” he explained. “After I learned that, in the bars at night, as bedtime loomed near, a couple of us would torment her by pretending to read the most outlandish tales of bedbug infestation from the hotel’s reviews. That sounds bad, but her expressions were as entertaining as they were inexhaustible. She never made the same disgusted/terrified face twice. That, and her laugh when she caught on, made it worthwhile.”
What Anderson most remembers, though, is Doyle’s dedication. Last Saturday, he sent Doyle a personal note of encouragement, saying he hoped to see her at an SAF Profit Blast soon.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t clear enough, and my message got misconstrued,” he explained. “She immediately forwarded it to Laura Weaver, SAF’s director of meetings and conventions, explaining that I needed some specific information. Even then, just two days before she passed, she was a dedicated employee of SAF.”
Longtime SAF volunteer leader Dr. Marvin Miller, AAF, of Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago also recalled Doyle’s tenacity and loyalty. For years during SAF’s Congressional Action Days events, the Illinois delegation, which Miller heads, has prided itself on visiting every lawmaker from the state — even those representatives who did not have an SAF member at the event. Squeezing in 20-plus appointments in the span of one workday was a daunting task — and one that Doyle took on personally each year, with good cheer and her characteristic humor.
“Krissy made those meetings happen, and best of all, she did it with a smile,” Miller said. “Her absence will leave the world a little less happy. I don’t know which flowers Krissy might have liked the most, but whenever I saw her smile, it reminded me of the cheerfulness I always associate with sunflowers. I will miss her deeply, as I think most members will.”
David Mitchell, AAF, of Mitchell’s Flowers and Events in Orland Park, Illinois — and the SAF volunteer leader charged with managing the association’s long-running Outstanding Varieties Competition on-site during convention — recalled endless hours coordinating with Doyle on the competition. Winning a ribbon at the contest is a significant honor, in large part due to Doyle’s diligent work behind the scenes communicating with growers and judges and organizing the information to maintain the highest integrity. The volume of information — last year’s contest alone had 245 entries — and the importance of the competition could create a stressful environment, but Mitchell said Doyle always found ways to add needed levity, while getting the work done.
“We had more fun just entering scores from the judging into her Excel spreadsheet,” he admitted. “I will miss her giggle and her laughter. She was a bright light. I know that we all shine a little brighter just from knowing her.”
Other SAF members expressed similar sentiments.
“Nearly every time I arrived at an SAF event, Krissy’s welcoming smile was the first thing that greeted me at registration,” said Tim Galea of Norton’s Flowers & Gifts in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan, chairman of SAF’s Retailers Council. “Reconnecting with her was always a great way to get me in the mood for a fun event. I have missed her the past eight months and hope her spirit remains deeply embedded within the SAF community.”
Nicole Palazzo of City Line Florist in Trumbull, Connecticut, organized an effort to send Doyle inspirational messages earlier this year. She said she was touched by Doyle’s kindness — and good-hearted goofiness — and her attention to and memory for details.
“Krissy was always so cheerful and had a silly side to her,” said Palazzo, who, like Miller compared Doyle to a sunflower. “I will miss her jokes and her dancing during the conferences. She will be sorely missed.”
A Friend to All
Beyond her dedication to SAF members, Doyle proved herself through the years to be a trusted friend and co-worker to many on the association’s team — the person you could seek out to share both joys and hardships, the gal who would wink at you in a meeting and ask about the milestones of your kids, the one who would whip out pictures of her deeply loved dogs or oooh and ahhh over yours.
“Krissy and I were often the last to leave at the end of the day, so I’d saunter over to her office to complain, connect and/or get a wintergreen Lifesaver,” remembered Amanda Long, the former managing editor of Floral Management. “No matter how I entered her office, I always left feeling nourished — and not by that dang candy. She was an oasis. Her smile, her sarcasm, THAT voice and her genuine goodness — all were there whenever I needed it. She was a true lifesaver.”
Karen Yoho, SAF’s former director of communications, recalled Doyle’s optimism. “I remember times at SAF where she would bring the positive out in a situation: ‘Yeah, but . . .’ was always followed by her encouraging us to look at something in a different way,” Yoho said. “She brought a glimmer of hope to a problem or challenge, probably because finding a solution was something she came to naturally…Krissy collected stories that she shared with us in the office, always delivered with her flair for drama and her contagious laughter.”
And, Doyle certainly had a flair — indeed, a true gift for — drama. Outside of work, Doyle and her husband, Kevin, maintained deep ties to the local theater world, serving as actors, supporters and cheerleaders for the arts. Doyle’s life-long love of musical theater was something she shared with her SAF colleagues; she was known to break into song— loudly, unexpectedly and, often, to a teammate’s amusement. (A number of SAF employees, current and former, said they cannot hear a song from the Broadway show “Wicked” without thinking of Doyle, smiling and belting out that soundtrack.)
It was that exuberance — and Doyle’s wholehearted embrace of the things and people she loved — that made her so special, said former colleagues Dave Bowman, now a director at MultiView, a media company with an office in Washington, D.C., and Renato Cruz Sogueco, AAF, PFCI, vice president of digital strategy and education at BloomNet in Jacksonville, Florida.
Both remember bringing their children to SAF headquarters and watching in dismay as their kids ditched them and headed immediately to the safety, fun and whimsy of Doyle’s office. There, she would entertain Bowman’s daughter, Abby, and Sogueco’s son, Raphael, regaling them with stories, serenading them in song. It was a memory Sogueco hadn’t thought much about until a few years ago, when Raphael announced he’d been cast in a school production.
“The musical was ‘The Lion King,’ so being the hopeful, supportive parent, I was thinking he got the part of ‘the tree,’ and we’d be thankful,” Sogueco said. In fact, Raphael would play Simba, the lead. “Floored, I asked him to sing a line. So, he breaks out, ‘I just can’t wait to be king.’ In that magical moment of pride and clarity, I knew this was the wonderful influence of his ‘Tita Krissy,’ who always sang him songs. He’s gone on to land more lead roles and will continue to. I believe with all my heart, with all the fire and spirit, that his Tita Krissy instilled [her love] in him during those visits to her office.”
Abby too went on to make theater a centerpiece of her life. “She stage-managed every main-stage theater production at her high school from sophomore through senior year, and she got her bachelor’s degree from William & Mary with a double major in anthropology and, yep, theater,” Bowman said. “She is an unabashed theater geek, and it’s all because of Krissy.”
Doyle leaves behind her beloved husband, Kevin, cherished “fur babies,” Lizzie and Penny, and countless friends, colleagues and extended family.
A visitation will be held July 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mountcastle Turch Funeral Home and Crematory in Dale City, Virginia. A funeral service will be held July 9 at 11 a.m. at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Woodbridge, Virginia.
If you would like to share a memory of Doyle with her family, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management.