Joseph Wrice used only rudimentary lawn tools in his work.
But his vision for bringing the best out of God’s creation shone through ever-smiling eyes, producing some of the prettiest gardens folks ever saw on St. Simons Island and Sea Island.
“He had a shovel, a rake and some clippers maybe,” said Sharon Flores, who watched Wrice work his magic at her St. Simons Island residence through two decades. “No power tools. Everything was by hand. He was an artist with gardens. He designed gardens, planted them, tended them. I doubt Joe ever owned a power tool. But he had a twinkle in his eye, always.”
Tragically, that spark of gardening genius burned out Thursday morning in a senseless crash in eastbound rush hour traffic on the F.J. Torras Causeway. Georgia State Patrol troopers said a 45-year-old woman speeding excessively and driving recklessly rear-ended Wrice’s 1995 Chevrolet Silverado, propelling the pickup truck off the road and into a tree near the Back River Bridge. Wrice, 62, died at the scene.
The state patrol said the woman drove on and off the road at high speeds, striking other vehicles and street signs before slamming into the back of Wrice’s truck. The woman also crashed into trees and was taken by ambulance to Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital.
The state patrol said charges are pending against the woman. The News is not releasing the woman’s name until the state patrol investigation is over and charges are filed.
Meanwhile, folks across the Golden Isles are mourning Wrice’s passing.
Wrice started working as a young man with the landscaping crew at the Sea Island Resort, spending numerous years there before striking out on his own. He quickly developed a growing clientele among homeowners on St. Simons Island and Sea Island.
Among those was Anne Whittle of St. Simons Island. Gardens flourished under his care, no doubt. But Wrice also had a knack for getting the best to blossom in people too.
“You can’t imagine how loved this man was,” Whittle said. “He had more friends than anybody I know. He knew more about plants than anyone in the world. He was truly a fantastic and loving man.”
When Flores moved here 15 years ago, Wrice had already been tending the garden at that address for the previous owner. Flores did not have to look twice before deciding to keep him on, she said.
“We just expanded the garden,” she said.
At least one or more of the gardens Wrice tended was sure to be featured in the Cassina Garden Club’s annual Tabby and Tillandsia Garden Walk, Flores said.
“He wasn’t like the mow and blow people,” she said. “People wanted him to build their garden and then take care of it for them. He was truly one of the special, special people.”
Former client Janet Shirley, Flores and other of Wrice’s clients started a GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/f/bw68cv-in-memory-of-our-friend-joe-wrice) over the weekend, hoping to help with funeral expenses and to assist his widow, Jocetta Wrice. The fund had raised nearly $7,000 by Monday afternoon.
“The outpouring of thanks has been great,” Flores said. “It’s been a huge help for the family.”
On Monday, Jared Wrice was recalling a father who taught valuable life lessons through the examples he set. His faith in God, his devotion to family, and his satisfaction in a job done well were the things he valued most.
As a youngster working beside his father, Jared learned that power gardening tools were no substitute for a keen eye and patience when it came to trimming a hedge or pruning a bush.
“He told me, ‘We don’t need to come in here with string line; it’s all about body language,’” Jared Wrice, 39, recalled with a chuckle. “He focused on one thing and made that work in so many ways. He was a heartfelt man, and that’s what I took from my time with him. That’s what I learned.”
There will be a graveside service at 11 a.m. today at Greenwood Cemetery, 3301 Newcastle St., in Brunswick.
In addition to Jared and his wife, Wrice is survived by another son, Joseph Wrice, Jr., and five grandchildren.
“He was a man of integrity,” Jocetta Wrice said. “He loved Jesus and he loved people. He did not just do the people’s yards. They had relationships. He didn’t want much. But he was dedicated to his job, his church, his family and his friends.”