Bill Hixson, AAF, PFCI, the 1993 recipient of the Society of American Florists’ Tommy Bright Award and a floral design teacher who is remembered in his community for his year-round Christmas-themed flower shop, died December 29, 2022. He was 93.
A natural storyteller, Hixson used his communication skills to inspire students enrolled in his design school, Hixson’s School of Floral Design, as well as those who attended his presentations at design shows. He also taught floral design in Europe, Japan and throughout the U.S., according to his obituary and biography, efforts that earned him the Tommy Bright Award, which is presented annually to a member of SAF’s Professional Floral Communicators – International.
One of his students, Alan Parkhurst, AIFD, PFCI, remembers Hixson as a dynamic speaker inside and outside of the classroom.
“He had such great back stories for things he would design,” Parkhurst says. “He would explain a design and how he learned about it — the background, the principles and elements of design — and then he would go further with different applications on how you could use it. And the extraordinary thing about him was that as a public speaker, there were never any awkward pauses. He just was naturally an incredible speaker.”
Hixson, who operated his Lakewood, Ohio, shop for nearly 70 years, also provided invaluable business advice, Parkhurst says, which he took with him when he opened his own floral shop.
“Bill would often talk about the mistakes that florists would fall into, or perhaps things he thought were poor business practices,” he says. “I think he set an example. The bottom line was that you weren’t just making things pretty. This was a product, and we also had to pay our bills and our employees.”
Hixson had years of floral business experience to draw from. He got his start in the floral industry by taking evening design classes when he was a teenager. He opened his business — originally named Hixson’s Flower Barn — in 1953 and later helped V.L. Smithers, founder of Smithers-Oasis, develop and market the Oasis floral foam used in arrangements, according to Robin Kilbride, CEO of Smithers-Oasis.
Kilbride, who visited Hixson at his shop last summer, recalled the story of how he got involved with Smithers-Oasis. Hixson had been attending a floral convention in Cleveland and noticed a man standing next to a large glass tub filled with water. An orange water-soaked foam block was at the bottom of the tub, covered with pieces of chicken wire. The man asked Bill, “What do you think of this new flower holder foam?,” Kilbride recalled. Hixson was honest in his reply, recommending that the foam should be stronger and green to match the color of flower stems. About a week later, the man visited Hixson at his shop, introduced himself as Smithers, and told Hixson he was making the changes he’d suggested, Kilbride says. Before long, Hixson was providing Smithers-Oasis with pictures of arrangements he’d made with the foam, and he was traveling throughout the U.S. with floral educator and commentator Ethel “Tommy” Bright to introduce the product, says Kilbride.
Through his floral design instruction, Hixson met many florists, including Nancy Clarke, who would go on to be the White House florist from 1985 to 2009, and who invited him each year to help decorate the White House for Christmas, Kilbride says. According to one news story, Hixson knew several of the First Ladies, including Laura Bush.
Over the years, Hixson’s shop became known for its year-round Christmas merchandise, which included ornaments that Hixson designed himself based on his extensive research of Christmas traditions, says Matthias Burke, co-owner of Hixson’s, Inc. Hixson contracted small, family-owned businesses in Germany, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic and Ukraine to create the ornaments. The ornaments and his love for the holiday earned Hixson the nickname “Mr. Christmas.”
Burke, who worked at the shop for more than 20 years before buying into the business to succeed Hixson, says Hixson’s ornaments and his love for storytelling and Christmas are just a few reasons why he will be remembered.
“Bill was really an inspiration. He was such a hard worker all the way up until the day he died,” Burke says. “He always had great new ideas, and was always thinking about better ways to do things. He was also just a pleasure to be around. He had a sense of humor; he could talk to anybody about anything. He was caring, charismatic, and wasn’t afraid to be himself. He was such a great person and he would teach people in a way that was unlike anybody else.”
Kenya McCullum is a contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.