Billy Martinson, 85, passed away peacefully on Thursday, January 2 following a short illness. He was born on December 20, 1934, and often lamented he had always been slated to get two-for-one gifts around Christmastime. But his life was a constant gift to his family.
Billy was the third child of the late Alvena Rockwood Martinson and the late Frank Maynard Martinson, Sr. He was preceded in death by sister, Patsy (Martinson) Sanchez, and brother, Mike Martinson. Their idyllic childhoods were spent together on Greymont Avenue in Jackson. Billy attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School, Bailey High School, and graduated from Central High School in 1953. In 1957 he received his B.S. in Horticulture from Mississippi State University, where he pledged Sigma Chi fraternity.
Billy married Rita Randall of Gloster, MS in 1958 just before he was stationed at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, where he served two years in the Chemical Corps. Their first daughter was born there in 1959, and he was honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant in 1960.
Upon returning to Jackson, Billy established Green Oak Nursery and rapidly expanded the garden center to include a florist and all facets of the gardening business. Their family also rapidly grew to include another daughter and two sons. In 1972 the Martinsons moved to what was then rural Madison County. He later established another garden center in Ridgeland, GardenWorks.
Billy was known for his business acumen and was a past president of the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association and past president of the Southern Nursery Association. He also was a member of the American Association of Nurserymen. He was named MNLA Nurseryman of the Year and was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award. He served as a mentor to his employees, many of whom were loyal to him for years. His leadership, guidance and genuine concern helped set their direction for life.
Billy was very proud of the fact that two of his children and their spouses chose to continue the family businesses and Green Oak is now owned by daughter Karen and her husband Maur, and GardenWorks is owned by son Allen and his wife Mimi. He could not have been happier that four of his grandchildren are now involved in the green industry as well.
Billy is survived by his loving wife of 61 years, Rita, and their children Ginny Weilenman (Mark), Karen McKie (Maur), Chip Martinson (Susan) of New Orleans, and Allen Martinson (Mimi); ten grandchildren to whom he was devoted: Delaney Foster (Eric), Michael Vampran, Eric McKie (Carly), Carly McKie, Nic McKie, Paige Vann, Evelyn Martinson, Kelly Martinson, Mia Martinson, and Max Martinson; his great granddaughter Elliott Foster; his nieces Nicki Boland (Pat) and Debi Pearsall (Denny); and many other nieces and nephews.
To all who knew Billy, he was almost legendary in the way he was interested in other people’s lives and could remember small details about their families. He was most outgoing and could bond with anyone. He truly loved giving advice to any who would listen. He had a knack for being endearing, infuriating and humorous, often in the same breath. But no one was ever unaware of his presence.
After the tragic loss of their home in the country, he and Rita were made to feel welcome at St. Catherine’s Village in Madison and loved reuniting with their many friends who lived there. They lived life to the fullest, enjoying also their friends in New Orleans, where they had a getaway home. Ever a Bulldog at heart, Billy enjoyed pulling for them regardless. Billy and Rita were regular communicants at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Madison and St. Catherine’s Chapel.
The Martinson family would like to thank all of Billy’s caregivers at St. Dominic Hospital and Select Specialty Hospital, his many friends and prayer warriors who lovingly gave of themselves to support him and all of us through these last weeks.
A memorial mass will be celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi, Madison on Monday, January 6 at 11 am. Visitation with the family will be at 10 am at the church.
Donations in his name may be made to Gleaners, P.O. Box 9883, Jackson, MS 39286, or to St. Catherine’s Village, 200 Dominican Drive, Madison, MS 39110. Of course, since Billy was a flower salesman at heart, feel free to send flowers too.