County horticulture adviser leaving for job in N.C.

September 01, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

The Carroll County homeowner didn't know what she had, but she knew who could fix it as she anxiously awaited the plant doctor's return to his office.

"What have we got here?" asked Tom Ford, horticulture adviser and consultant for the Carroll County extension office, as he took the small green and white vine from her hands.

The clipping, from an evonymous shrub, had a brownish growth attached to the bottom and the resident wanted to know how to get rid of it.

"It's a bacterial gall," explained Mr. Ford, who recently announced he'd accepted a job with the Lenore County, N.C., extension office. "You'll have to cut it out. You can't get rid of it," he said.

"We're really going to miss you around here," the homeowner replied, amid effusive thanks. "I don't know what we're going to do without you."

She's not alone. Many of Tom Ford's clients have echoed those sentiments in the few weeks since he announced he'd be leaving his native Carroll County for an extension agent position in Kingston, N.C.

The job, which starts Sept. 15, involves working with commercial greenhouses and nurseries, particularly tobacco farmers who use their hot houses to start seedlings, Mr. Ford said. He said he will be working with them to grow flowers the rest of the year.

"I hate to see him go, but it sounds like he's making a move in the direction he wants to go," said Gary Angell, who cares for the grounds at the Wakefield Valley Golf Course in Westminster. "He will be fondly remembered."

Mr. Ford, 34, said he'll miss his clients too. In fact, leaving them and the secretaries at the Carroll County extension office is the hardest part about giving up the job.

"They've been my surrogate mothers," Mr. Ford said of the clerical staff that took him, then a 22-year-old University of Maryland graduate, under its wing when he started the job in 1982. Since then, he's earned a master's degree in business administration from Frostburg State College.

"They always made sure I did this and did that," Mr. Ford said. "I owe as much of my professional development to them as to anyone else."

But the new job was too good to pass up, Mr. Ford said.

"I really need the extension agent position, the title if nothing else," he said, noting that unlike a full extension agent, he's not considered University of Maryland faculty in his current position. "This is not a financial move. Financially, it's a lateral one."

Also, Mr. Ford said he was impressed by the support North Carolina's extension agency receives from the business community.

"Business enterprises contribute about $20,000 a year in additional support to conduct research trials that will hopefully develop new technology to help the industry," he said. "We don't usually see that same kind of support here."

As for his Carroll County clients, Mr. Ford said he feels he's leaving a group of close friends.

"I treat them the same way I'd want to be treated," he said, noting that often the clients people would classify as "difficult" have become the most loyal.

"I have never had a problem with clientele," Mr. Ford said. "When you are interested in a person's trials and tribulations and take a genuine interest in them, they generally reciprocate."

And he's never laughed at a client, as difficult as that's been at times. For example, Mr. Ford recalls one woman who called to ask if she could freeze her Christmas tree.

"She was just happy that I had an answer to her question," Mr. Ford said. "She said 'Thank you for not laughing at me.' Apparently some other places had ridiculed her or sent her somewhere else."

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