Gordon Newton MBE

University gardener honoured by Queen will be sorely missed

Tributes have been paid to well-loved and highly respected former University of Exeter gardener Gordon Newton MBE, who has passed away at the age of 71.

Gordon spent his working life of 50 years helping transform the University’s Streatham Campus grounds from fields and crops into the award-winning botanical gardens it is renowned for today.

Having joined the University as an apprentice gardener aged just 15, straight from Exeter’s Ladysmith School, Gordon rose from his earliest tasks of washing pots and mixing soils to winning dozens of medals with the University at the Devon County Show, overseeing floral arrangements for weddings and other events and making bouquets for the Queen and other Royal visitors.

Gordon tended the grounds all year round, including during the Christmas and New Year periods. His last role at the University, which he held until his retirement in 2010 aged 65, was foreman of the University’s glasshouses.

In his spare time, Gordon had a passion for fireworks, Exeter City Football Club, speedway, and photography.

Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “Gordon’s passing will be met with genuine sadness by all who knew him, and so our immediate thoughts are with his wife Susan, his sister Josie, and all those who knew and loved him.

“Gordon joined the University straight from school at the age of 15 and worked at the University for over 50 years. In that time he contributed so much to the life of the institution and to the region. He will be remembered as a much-loved individual who had an amazing talent for nurturing plants and flowers, and for designing multi-award winning floral displays, winning won over 40 prizes at the Devon County Show.

“Generations of graduates will have been awarded their degrees surrounded by his floral displays, and many staff will remember his wonderful flowers at so many University events. I was privileged to know Gordon, and we often talked about his and my football teams.

“It was particularly pleasing to see a nursery man and gardener from Exeter get the recognition he so richly deserved when the Queen awarded him an MBE for his services. Gordon will be sorely missed.”

Iain Park, Director of Grounds at the University of Exeter, paid tribute to Gordon, describing him as “one of life’s great characters”.

Iain said: “Even when Gordon sadly became unwell, he still recounted some of his best times working in the University nursery. He always had a keen interest in plants and how to propagate them, and was a regular visitor to other local nurseries throughout Devon, including the Exeter Council nursery, and this helped him build lasting friendships.

“It would take a very large book to produce all the stories that Gordon had about working on the grounds here. He always tried to make sure he did the best job he could and promote the University positively. If he did not know about something in horticulture he would go and find out about it, long before access to the internet was available.

“If he could help he would go out of his way to try to do so. If you did something that fell short of his expected standards he would also go out of his way to let you know!

“I know that those who met Gordon will remember him, for those who didn’t missed out on meeting one of life’s great characters.”