Billy Martinson’s signature El Camino contained a fitting floral arrangement and was parked outside St. Francis of Assisi in Madison for his funeral held Monday. Martinson was a legend in horticulture in the Jackson area.
Billy Martinson’s signature El Camino contained a fitting floral arrangement and was parked outside St. Francis of Assisi in Madison for his funeral held Monday. Martinson was a legend in horticulture in the Jackson area.

William Kelly “Billy” Martinson, a legend in horticulture since opening Green Oak Nursery in Jackson in 1960 and GardenWorks in Ridgeland a decade later, died Jan 2. He was 85.

A service was held Monday at St. Francis of Assisi.

His wife of 61 years is former state Rep. Rita Martinson.

 




He was a pioneer in surviving the onslaught of big box retailers with expert personal service and attention.

He was almost legendary, his family said, in the way he was interested in other people’s lives and could remember small details about their families.  

“He was most outgoing and could bond with anyone,” they said. “He truly loved giving advice to any who would listen.  He had a knack for being endearing, infuriating and humorous, often in the same breath. But no one was ever unaware of his presence.”

He was known for driving El Caminos his whole adult life and on Monday the last one he owned was parked in front of the church with a large arrangement in the back. It was classic Billy Martinson, many who saw it agreed.

“Billy Martinson was a great friend,” Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee said Monday. “I have a lot of respect for that man. He was definitely a person you would want to pattern your life after. He will be remembered as a hard worker and a great family man and his death is a great loss.”

Martinson was very proud of the fact that two of his children and their spouses chose to continue the family businesses after he retired.


Green Oak is now owned by daughter Karen and her husband Maur, and GardenWorks is owned by son Allen and his wife Mimi. 

He could not have been happier that four of his grandchildren are now involved in the green industry as well, his family said.

The tributes to Martinson have also been pouring in on social media.

“You both have been the best of friends to my family and I,” Madison County Tax Collector Kay Pace wrote in a public message to Billy’s wife Rita. “Even though you and all of us are unable to see him, his kind heart and gentle manner will always be with you. Love you my friend.”

Martinson was a son of Jackson growing up on Greymont Avenue in the iconic Belhaven neighborhood.

He came back to the capital city upon finishing at Mississippi State and his two years of service in the Chemical Corps, stationed at Ft. McClellan, Ala.

In 1972, he moved his family to what was then rural Madison County north of Madison. Ridgeland at the time was ideal for a nursery because it was so rural.

His achievements in his field go well beyond the success of the garden centers. During his career, he served as president of the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA), the Southern Nursery Association and was a member of the American Association of Nurserymen. He was honored twice by the MNLA — first in 1980 with the Nursery Person of the Year Award and, more recently, with the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.