It was still Don's day
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 12, 2012 1:50 AM
Sadie Edwards, right, holds the last bouquet she will ever get from Don's Florist on Spence Avenue, while owner Don Worley's daughter, Beth Elsenveck, and her son, Zachary, thank her for stopping by. The shop closed Saturday after 33 years.
Saturday morning was supposed to belong to a florist and his customers -- to firm handshakes, long embraces and tearful goodbyes.
But when Don Worley couldn't make it out of bed -- when his wife, Patti, was forced to call 911 and have her husband transported to Wayne Memorial Hospital -- a retirement prompted, in part, by his waning health, happened inside a Spence Avenue business without the man who built it 33 years ago.
Don fought that reality all the way to the emergency room.
He kept telling Patti that he needed to be at the store -- that he, not his daughter, Beth, should be the one extending red carnations to his decades-old customers; that he should be the one reliving the memories that made the decision to close shop so hard.
But by the time his old friends started walking through a door they knew would, by noon, close for the final time, it was clear that the man they came to see wasn't going to make it there.
So with heavy hearts, Beth and longtime shop manager Sally Fuller took turns reaching into a bucket full of red carnations.
They listened to stories about Don's kindness.
And they accepted prayers for a man loved as much for his selflessness as his vibrant flowers.
Sadie Edwards wiped tears from her eyes moments after Beth handed her a colorful bouquet.
"Don and Patti have been wonderful to me," she said.
She remembers her first visit to the store nearly 20 years ago -- how she "always got my red carnation."
And she vowed to never forget the kind man who always found a way to make her smile.
"Don has a sense of humor that everybody has to love," she said.
Faye Ward shared an emotional embrace with Sally.
"Thank you so much for all you've done for the community," she said, before turning to Beth with arms extended.
"I'm sorry my dad couldn't be here," Don's daughter said.
"Please just give him my best," she sad. "He's been so gracious to everyone over the years. We're going to miss him very much."
Others had more specific memories to share.
Like the young man who brought his wife and children in to show Don just what his flowers had created.
"Your flowers always seemed to get me into trouble," he quipped, looking down at his children. "But they got me a wife -- a family."
Or Evelyn Small who remembers Don's compassion when she came to him for funeral flowers more than 15 years ago.
"Patti and Don are special people, and when we buried Mama, they felt like family, they kept me calm," she said. "I'll never forget setting that beautiful arrangement next to her final resting place. And I'll never forget how much love this family put into it."
But that story -- and countless other memories she has of milestones marked with one of Don's bouquets -- were not shared with Beth or Sally Saturday morning.
Evelyn had planned to, but didn't have "enough courage" to walk through that door.
"I just can't," she said, a tear running down her face. "I've never been too good at goodbyes, and I don't want to accept this. Things like this shouldn't happen to good people, and Don Worley is among the finest I've ever known."
What she didn't know was that her beloved florist was busy perpetuating his reputation across town -- that even as he endured an X-ray and an untimely stint in a hospital room, he was thinking of those around him.
He had Patti call Beth to tell her to pack up a bucket of carnations and bring it to Wayne Memorial.
"He wants to give carnations to the doctors and nurses," Beth said, smiling. "That's Daddy for ya."
And moments after he was discharged, thanks to his little girl, Don did just that.
"He sure did," Beth said.
By noon, the well-wishers had gone and Sally reluctantly closed a Goldsboro landmark one final time.
But Don had made sure -- in his own way -- that his final day as one of Wayne County's most recognizable businessmen was not just about the past 33 years.
Inside that hospital, he had spent the final moments before his retirement doing what many say he has lived for since he first opened his doors -- bringing smiles to the faces of the unsuspecting with a gesture of friendship and love.
His career did, after all, start with that simple gesture -- the passing of a red carnation from a brand new florist to the first woman to grace his modest shop.
And Don fought to ensure that was how it ended -- even if the setting was far different from the one he had imagined.