By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Bill Flewellen’s hobby started out as a necessity. When the 95-year-old Tupelo resident was a kid, his parents tended a garden at their home in Eufaula, Ala.
“We had to have a big garden in order to have something to eat,” Flewellen said. ”We had a tradition because we had to do it. I got in the habit. It’s very satisfying to me to work in the yard.”
The hobby followed him to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where he was an assistant dean of the business school. And he kept a nice yard in Starkville when he was dean of Mississippi State University’s business school.
He went east to be dean of the University of Georgia’s business school, and later helped create and run the Small Business Development Center.
He built his showplace on two acres in Athens, Ga., spending about 30 years planting color amid the pines.
In 2004, Flewellen and his wife, Tommie Sue, moved to Tupelo to live with their daughter and grandson. Yard work wasn’t a pressing issue at first.
“My wife got dementia in 1988 and lived 19 years with it,” he said. “That’s when I retired. From then, I was her sole caregiver.”
After 66 years of marriage, Tommie Sue Flewellen died in 2007. Her widower returned to his hobby.
“It gives me something to do,” he said. “At my age, you need your exercise. I enjoy it. I need it.”
Before he applied himself to the yard, it was mostly grass and shrubs, and the gray clay below two inches of topsoil caused challenges.
“Paw dug trenches to direct the water when it rained,” said his grandson, William Heard, 38.
“That yard was like a lake in wet weather,” Flewellen said.
He built raised beds, and planted roses, elephant ears, begonias, impatiens and geraniums. Azaleas were a tough go, and petunias died almost as soon as he planted them.
Flewellen has an indoor walker. Another is for outdoor use, and it’s among his newer garden tools. The rake traces back to the 1940s. The shovel is a mere 20 years old.
“I don’t get out now until 6 or 6:30 in the evening and work for an hour and a half. That’s about all I can handle,” he said. “Used to, I’d work all day and all weekend. The heat? I didn’t pay attention to it. I have to be careful now. In the winter I don’t get out in it.”
For those looking for the key to long life, Flewellen thinks it comes down to good genes. He said 95 isn’t bad, even if he has to consume the contents of a small pharmacy each day.
“You have a lot of ailments,” he said, “but as long as they don’t give you any pain, you’re in great shape.”
And his hobby keeps calling him outside to cut this limb and pull that weed.
“There’s always something to do,” he said. “You never finish.”