Former White House gardener Gary Grimmette dies

 April 8, 2024

Gary Grimmette, a former White House gardener who led a wandering life full of tragedy, has died.

The 75-year-old Vietnam veteran died from pneumonia at the Veteran's Affairs hospital in Baltimore.

White House gardener dies

Grimmette was traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam as a 16-year-old Army medic; a high school dropout, he had lied about his age.

After the war, he struggled for years with PTSD and alcoholism, eventually finding peace in God and gardening.

His only survivor, his sister Gladys Stotridge, said Grimmette "saved many lives and sent people back home to their families" through his work as a medic.

He grew disillusioned with the Vietnam War upon coming home - he declined to accept a Purple Heart - got his GED and studied horticulture at community college.

In the 1970s, he got a job as a White House gardener under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He left the National Park Service in 1984.

"After all, we are the chosen ones in the Park service. We're the presidential gardeners," he wrote in his unpublished memoir, They Pay Me To Pick The Flowers.

Life of tragedy

Life for Grimmette began with tragedy.

His father, a West Virginia coal miner, died of a heart attack when he was a toddler, and his mother, a waitress, was in a series of abusive marriages after that. At age 12, Grimmette left home.

"I was on my own and loved the freedom and the peace that I now had. I was 12 years old and on my own," he wrote.

In the 1990s, Grimmette, who was openly gay, received a crushing AIDS diagnosis, which convinced him to sell his home and move to Europe - first Paris, then Italy.

Grimmette settled in Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood in 2008 and became a fixture in the community, where he helped maintain a local park.

He didn't give up

In a 2021 interview with the Bolton Hill Bulletin, he expressed disillusionment with the state of the country and the government. "It's not the country I fought for," he said.

"Gary was a very, very open and generous person," Noah Tyler, a neighbor and friend, told the Baltimore Sun.

"He had a deep spiritual faith and would do Bible readings throughout the day and prayed for the sick from his church," Tyler said. "He was a hero for not giving up."

There will be a Requiem Mass Tuesday at Mount Calvary Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore.

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