Word reached me this morning of Bob Farmer’s passing. When John Campbell and I came from Tortola to live on St. John 15 years ago, the first persons we met were our neighbor Myckie McNally and her good friend Bob Farmer. Myckie has passed now and with Bob Farmer’s death, I feel a great sadness. It marks the passing of a generation of expatriates who came to St. John for its beauty, not for license to live unrestricted by stateside values.
John and I came to St. John to retire under the U.S. flag as had Bob many years earlier. He lived on St. John because of its beauty and because he could live here simply and because its climate permitted him to cultivate the tropical plants and flowers he loved. Every bougainvilla we have on our land is a Bob Farmer plant. They are all gigantic now. Every oleander is from Bob Farmer’s garden. Some of them have since died. I brought cuttings of pencil plants from my home in Tortola and shared them with Bob.
In the early years of our settling on St. John, we often drove up the hill and then up the dirt road to Bob Farmer’s property.
Many times John and I stepped through his wooden gate, calling out the West Indian greeting. Bob Farmer always had time for us. He was so proud of the fantastic trees that a horticulturist friend of his had managed to ship him from Madagascar. Speaking of Madagascar, Bob Farmer taught us that it was the motherland of so much of the rare and wonderful flora of the Caribbean. And he told us about the sad devastation of that island — unlike any other on earth — by the ongoing harvesting of firewood and the burning for crops. Rare and wonderful birds, animals, lizards, trees, and plants have become extinct there.
Bob Farmer was also very, very proud of the numerous types of orchids he cultivated in his open-air orchidarium. During the months that I spent alone on the island, I’d visit Bob and he would patiently tell me the name of each type, even though I had forgotten the names from the previous visit. When John and I became grandparents and our five-week-old grandson came to live with us on Rock Ridge Road, I’d take William up to visit Bob and hold him up to the orchids while Bob Farmer patiently repeated the names of the orchids. Frankly, William was more enchanted by Bob’s large, friendly cat (whose name I don’t remember).
These memories are part of our early days on St. John. I’ll not be on island for Bob Farmer’s Memorial. But I hope that someone will throw an orchid onto Bob’s grave or onto the sea when he makes his final departure from the island.