Kevin Warhurst, the youngest son of Bob Warhurst, said that his father’s life has been about making his own opportunities and creating his own destiny. Bob Warhurst, who passed away in late April, got his first job at the age of seven, Kevin recalled in a conversation with the News-Press, which was the start of his father’s journey from rural Alabama to Northern Virginia.
Bob, who grew up in the wake of the Great Depression, quit school in the eighth grade, and moved to Northern Virginia to work as a bricklayer apprentice for his older brother. Eventually, he co-founded Merrifield Garden Center with Buddy Williams, which became one of the largest gardening companies in the region, with three locations in Northern Virginia.
“Showing that kind of drive and determination really speaks volumes,” Kevin said. “If you look at his journey….he believes in the idea of hard work and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. He’s always been a man that if he wants something he would go after it and give it his all.”
Bob Warhurst’s story is well-known in the region, especially in the business community, and was recalled in an obituary published in the May 7 edition of the News-Press.
There’s even a biography published about him called The American Dream: The Rags to Roses Story of Bob Warhurst and the Founding of Merrifield Garden Center. But his youngest son Kevin said that beyond the business, his father was a “wonderful man.”
“He was a very kind person. I think he lived a life of paying it forward,” Kevin said. “He was a person who was always looking out for the needs of others and helping people….He was very helpful in the community. He was very giving, with various charities and community organizations.
“He was a person who looked after people and he was a very good man.” Kevin and his siblings – Debbie, Rob, Larry and Donny – grew up working at Merrifield Garden Center and still help operate the company today, as do his siblings and the children of Buddy Williams, who died in 2011.
In this sense, Merrifield Garden Center, despite its large size, is still a family business. Peter Hogarth, a manager at the Fair Oaks location, said that Bob Warhurst was a father figure to a lot of people.
“He was a very caring person. One of his real assets was knowing and connecting with people and he treated all the people who worked with him the same way,” Hogarth said. “And whether it was customers or employees, he always had this very caring, concerned approach to dealing with people.”
“So when he’s not doing that or he’s not around, you kind of miss that. He was always easy to talk to and get advice from.”
Hogarth said that Bob had an infectious personality, instilling in his employees the confidence he had in himself and the mission of Merrifield Garden Center while allowing them to play to their strengths.
“He allowed us to grow within the company and do the things that were our strengths and he wanted that out of us,” Hogarth said. “He wanted to make sure we followed the mission of his ideals and of the Merrifield way, but he also understood that if he really wanted to get the best out of people that he needed to let them grow into the positions that they have.”
In speaking with the News-Press, Hogarth emphasized the Warhurst’s people skills in the everyday operation of the Merrifield Garden Centers, but Kevin Warhurst said that his father also had a deep love and appreciation for plants.
“When he grew up poor in Alabama one of his jobs was to tend to the family vegetable garden, so he grew up with his hands in the Earth and took great joy in working with plants and nature and producing the food that would sustain us,” Kevin said. “So he kind of had an affinity for plants for that reason and….when he started the nursery business, plants came so naturally to him and he loved the beauty that plants provide, aesthetically and environmentally, he just loved plants.”