The iris world lost a dedicated irisarian and hybridizer with the death of Marvin Dean Faith of Searcy, Arkansas on July 10, 2013. He left a relatively large volume of iris cultivars including many American Iris Society award winners including two Mary Sword Debaillon Medal winners.
M.D., as he was more commonly known, was born on November 5th, 1925 in Camden, Arkansas. Most of his life was spent in White County in and around Searcy where he made his last home and garden with his wife, June.
M.D. served the United States proudly in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He flew to Europe as a part of the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force, 93rd Bombardment Group, 329th (later 409th) Squadron. He completed 34 missions, mainly in the "waist-gunner" position, on the B-24 bombers or "Liberators" out of the base near London, England. He flew on over 150 additional aborted missions. He received five Air Medals for meritorious achievement in flight. After the original medal, an Oak Leaf Cluster was added for each additional award of the medal.
M.D. worked at many jobs including the phone company and was even a Methodist Minister for a time before becoming a Real Estate Broker and founding the M.D. Faith Real Estate business in Searcy. His wife of 67 years June Marie, a son Marvin James Faith, a daughter Elizabeth Ann Faith Howell, five grandchildren, two step- grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren survive him.
M.D. excelled at raising things and produced robust gardens as a source of food for his family. Even then the beauty of flowers didn't escape him. He grew many plants on various properties though the years including bearded irises. Early hybridizing attempts with tall bearded irises yielded disappointing success, as his creations look similar to the old fashioned flowers he was working with.
In 1993, at the age of 67, M.D. and his wife June attended their first iris exhibition in Little Rock, Arkansas at the annual show held by the Central Arkansas Iris Society. Here he met iris hybridizers Henry Rowlan and Richard Butler. He also saw Louisiana iris and Rowlan's seedlings displayed. M.D. would soon adopt these Louisiana irises as his favorite because of their strength and vigor and resistance to soft rot.
The meeting with Henry Rowlan was really pivotal in M.D.'s future. M.D. proved to be an eager student, hungry for iris knowledge and the seasoned Rowlan was more than happy to answer questions and guide M.D. into the world of irises. He also supplied M.D. with Louisiana irises to grow and work with; many were Rowlan seedlings that had yet to be introduced. Rowlan also passed on many of the qualities to M.D. that he had learned from his mentor Frank Chowning; including the interest in improved bud count, winter hardiness so many of the Arkansas hybrids were noted for, and the appreciation of the simple beauty found in the species irises especially iris fulva.
Richard Butler played a smaller role but was equally important in M.D.'s legacy. It was a seedling he discarded and then gave M.D. that was ultimately registered and introduced as 'My Friend Dick' by M.D. in 2000. It won M.D. his first Marie Caillet Cup for the 1999 SLI Convention and a Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal in 2007.
M.D. dove into the iris world with as much passion, drive and determination as he had lived the rest of his life. Soon he was winning those shows with irises hauled from Searcy to Little Rock in the camper shell on the back of his pickup. By 1995 he was President of Central Arkansas Iris Society. He became an AIS Judge in 1998 and was promoted to a Master Judge in 2012 after 15 years of service.
M.D.'s first registrations were in 1998 with 'Ann Faith' and 'My Friend Dick'. The pristine white, 'Ann Faith', named after his daughter, won Best Seedling at the SLI Convention in Little Rock that year. Soon after the 2000 introductions of his first two irises he launched his IRIS NUT website as a way to showcase his seedlings and to offer his irises for sale. He kept the website active until health problems caused him to close it in Spring 2011.
M.D. would register many more irises through the next several years. Beautiful irises named after his wife, son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were created and introduced to the iris world along with other "found names" from time to time. 'June's Pick', 'James Faith', 'Cristin Faith', 'Lulu E', 'Rae Rae', 'Sam W', 'Sarah Faith' and 'Squidlee' are all named after family members. When quizzed why everyone didn't have an iris named after him or her, he simply said with a smile "They didn't ask."
It was the second SLI Convention held in Little Rock in 2002 that really put M.D. and his irises on the map. M.D. and June's garden was on tour that year and many of his irises blooming in his garden that day left big impacts on those touring the garden. One bicolor seedling made such a stir that it was given the name 'Enviable'. It and 4 other irises were registered and introduced that year including 2 Tall Bearded irises named after his wife, 'June Marie' and his mother, 'Mary Ada'. 'My Friend Dick' was blooming in a huge square bed during that tour and was the favorite iris seen on the tour giving M.D. his first Marie Caillet Cup.
M.D. produced some great Louisiana irises drawing mainly from the Rowlan gene pool. He also used irises from others including Charles Amy and John Taylor. With the close ties to Henry Rowlan it was not surprising that M.D. named an iris after his mentor. The sultry dark purple 'Henry Rowlan' was registered and introduced in 2000. It shot up the AIS Awards system like a rocket winning M.D. his second Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal in 2009.
His "Circe" series of irises took the name from Greek Mythology. M.D. used it because it was pronounced like his hometown of Searcy. In 2010 what looked to be his last introductions included two giving direct homage to those two men he met at the first iris show. 'Dick's Legacy' was a seedling out of seeds that Richard Butler had given M.D. 'Henry's Legacy' was a cross with 'News Brief' a Rowlan iris. In 2011 he registered another tall bearded iris as 'Johna' for a dear friend. The following year he registered 'My Friend Sam' and 'Connor' for her husband and son. These last three irises have not been introduced.
Though M.D. might have arrived late to the iris world, he certainly made up for it. His accomplishments include President of Central Arkansas Iris Society, Membership Chair and Regional Vice President of AIS Region 22. M.D. won 2 Marie Caillet Cups for 'My Friend Dick' and 'Henry Rowlan'. He registered 31 Louisiana iris and 3 tall bearded irises. His irises have received 15 AIS Honorable Merits and 5 Awards of Merit to date. He was Editor of the CAIS Newsletter and for many years wrote a cultural advice column called "Iris Doctor" for the Region 22 Newsletter. The Region 22 Youth Achievement Award was renamed The M.D. Faith Youth Achievement Award because he was instrumental in establishing that award when he was the RVP. He was given the prestigious Betty Emmons Memorial Service Award for outstanding service to Region 22 and the AIS at the Region 22 Meeting in Tulsa in 2008.
As important as all of these achievements are, they only scratch the surface of Marvin Dean Faith and what he was truly about. It was his teaching and nurturing of so many people interested in iris and gardening in general. He tutored any local person that needed help meeting their AIS requirements to become a judge. He always answered questions and supplied information whenever it was needed. M.D. and his garden were a magical place in the affect they had on people, both young and old, seasoned and novice gardeners. He was kind and compassionate, generous but stern, and an intelligent leader looked up to by many.
We in Central Arkansas and surrounding areas were certainly lucky to have had him here to share his knowledge, information and love of irises for so many years and are blessed to continue to grow his irises for years to come.