William “Bill” Preston passed away peacefully February 18 after a long, happy, and accomplished life surrounded by family and friends. He was a lifelong resident of the Bowie area and contributed much to the community and environment he loved. He was an alumnus of U.Md., achieving his Ph.D. in horticulture and earning a U.S. patent for his doctoral work on phosphonium compounds for plant dwarfing.
His early career was with USDA, where he quickly rose in responsibility, eventually managing 13 laboratories and over 200 scientists across the U.S. for testing of pesticides. In 1970, this division became part of the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency. At EPA, Dr. Preston chaired a national conference that created workable solutions for safely disposing of unused pesticides. This program is still in place today and has prevented many tons of pesticides from needlessly polluting the environment and injuring people. Another legacy of Dr. Preston’s while at EPA was to lead the creation of the approval process to assure pesticides are sufficiently safe to not cause harm to water, wildlife, farm workers, and consumers. For this work, he was awarded the Silver Medal for Outstanding Service, the second-highest recognition for an employee of the U.S. government.
After an early retirement from EPA at age 53, Bill embraced the life of a farmer by starting a small but successful cut-flower business. He and his loving (and patient) wife Corinne were fixtures at the College Park and Takoma Park farmers markets, where Bill’s enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge of growing flowers was as contagious as his flowers were beautiful. Bill was a founding member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, now a national organization, and he was a regular attendee and speaker at many national conferences. In 2002 he was honored as Cut Flower Grower of the Year by the Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association. Bill also had a lifelong passion for persimmons and started a 180-tree orchard in Calvert County of the variety Gwang Yang, the only commercial orchard of this variety in the Eastern U.S. He authored a book on the explorations of P.H. Dorsett, a horticulturist who traveled to China in the 1920’s to document persimmon growing practices.
In his later years, Bill and his wife Corinne moved from their Glenn Dale home to the Collington Retirement Community in Mitchellville, MD, where he remained energetic, enthusiastic, and involved in nearly every gardening- and plant-related activity until his last days, which is exactly how he wanted it. Bill is survived by his two daughters, Patricia Pugsley of Mt. Rainier, MD, and Bonita Preston of West Palm Beach, FL. He is predeceased by his wife Elizabeth Corinne Preston, and his six brothers and sisters, Ellen Blair, Henrietta Preston, Alice Bowers, Linda Ferguson, Frank Preston, and Steve Preston. Celebration of Life ceremonies will be held Saturday, March 2, 11:00 AM at Glenn Dale United Methodist Church, Glenn Dale, MD, and Saturday, March 9, 10:30 AM at Collington Retirement Community, Mitchellville, MD.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to support the next generation of leaders in horticulture through the American Society for Horticultural Science Endowment Fund, https://ashs.org/donations/, 703-836-4606.