Thomas M Eden Jr.
THOMAS M. EDEN JR. was a U.S. Navy veteran who had a colorful career as a college horticulture instructor, a TV show host, a textile industry lobbyist and a garden center owner. But he was best known as an encourager.
From his days as an Alabama Polytechnic Institute cheerleader to his many years instilling confidence in home gardeners to his service as an Eagle Scout leader, Little League coach and fraternity advisor, he considered encouraging others an essential rule of life.
A Nashville, Tennessee, native, Eden joined the Navy out of high school and served his country aboard ship in World War II. He then enrolled at API, now Auburn University, graduating in 1950 with a degree in ornamental horticulture with a landscape design emphasis. He returned to active duty as a ship officer in the Korean War, ultimately retiring from the service as a Navy commander after 23 years of active and reserve duty. In his earlier years of service, he also taught horticulture at his alma mater.
In the early 1960s, Eden began hosting an Alabama Educational Television Network landscape design show, “Time to Grow,” leaving there in 1969 to become executive director of and lobbyist for the Alabama textile manufacturers’ organization in Montgomery.
It was in the mid-1980s, though, that he realized a long-held dream when he and his family opened Garden of Eden Nursery and Garden Center, back in Auburn. The success of that family venture continues today, operating as Garden of Eden Services in nearby Notasulga.
In his senior year at Auburn, Eden was class president, Student Government Association Senate president, head cheerleader and a Rhodes Scholar nominee and was named one of the 10 most outstanding men on campus. As a young alumnus, he was an advisor to his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and, in 1968, he founded the War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen, a group that remains Auburn’s official hosts and hostesses.
Eden, a lifelong Baptist, was active in church, serving as a deacon at Montgomery’s First Baptist and, later, at Farmville Baptist in Auburn, and also was active in a number of professional and civic organizations. In 2010, his fraternity named its dining hall in his honor, and four years later, the City of Auburn presented him its Distinguished Veteran Award.
He and his wife, Carolyn, were married for 45 years and had three children—Tommy, Eve and Steve—and nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Eden passed away in 2017.