Joe Alford, a longtime Denton florist and former Denton City Council member, died on Sept. 30. He was 88.
Alford had been recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. He died while in hospice care at his home, seven weeks after his diagnosis. Doctors discovered the cancer while treating a chronic kidney disease.
“We weren’t prepared for him to die this quickly,” said Betty Alford, his wife, “but we got him set up in the living room and he was able to visit with family and friends and have fun with the people he loved. One of his friends came in and asked, ‘Hey, Joe, how’re you doing?’ and he opened his eyes and said, ‘I’m dying,’ and then laughed.”
As a florist, the native Texan spent his career lending beauty and a personal touch to special occasions and patrons’ gestures of gratitude and love. He was a Baptist for much of his life, and eventually became a member of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Denton.
“I think his greatest contribution was his contribution to design,” Betty Alford said.
Joe Alford worked in a floral shop through his years at the University of North Texas, and then opened his own business. Joe Alford Florist Inc. operated on the corner of Congress and Elm streets for about 46 years.
“He had a unique skill to design the flowers to meet their needs,” Betty Alford said of her husband’s work with customers. “When he designed for customers, it wasn’t what he liked — but the things they liked. The great memories he created for people — I have had more people tell me he did their weddings or a funeral for a loved one. They still remember what he designed for them, even if it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
Alford counted the carnation as his favorite flower — he liked that it’s available year round, is versatile and smells delightful, Betty Alford said. And he loathed reading the phrase “in lieu of flowers” in obituaries. He asked his family to let friends know that “flowers are encouraged” when he died. The Alfords received a wealth of flowers at home and at his celebration of life and reception.
Joe Alford was born May 31, 1933, in Weatherford to Ruth Baker and Clarence Lee Alford. He graduated from high school in Weatherford, and then traveled to Denton to attend UNT. He opened his florist shop in 1959. Florist Darren Heppel took over the shop in 2005 and then consolidated it into Linwood-Roberson Florist with designer Warren Hooper in 2006.
Alford made a successful bid for the Denton City Council in the 1980s. Chuck Carpenter, former executive director of the Denton Chamber of Commerce, recalled Alford as a conscientious public servant who had a rascal’s sense of humor.
“I had a connection with him right off the bat when I got here in 1982,” Carpenter said. “He was on the City Council and he was a member of chamber. The city had a contract with the chamber, so I did my best to maintain a relationship with all the members of the City Council. ... But it went beyond business with Joe. My very first private Christmas party in Denton was at Joe Alford’s house.”
Carpenter said Alford was dedicated to his business.
“You didn’t just go in and pick up the order,” Carpenter said. “You had 20 minutes to wait when you walked in. He was always accessible. What I liked about Joe he was obviously was a very successful businessman. But he was only going to take it seriously for so long. The cynical side of Joe — you didn’t just walk in and say the streets are falling apart without him cracking a comeback.”
Carpenter said Alford was as careful a City Council member as he was a business owner, Carpenter said. When a proposed joint resolution came out of the state Legislature suggesting Texas Woman’s University might be taken over by the University of North Texas, Alford and Bob Crouch sprang into action.
Betty Alford was a TWU faculty member and dean, and said her late husband supported her career. Carpenter said Joe Alford and Crouch assembled a fleet of buses to visit Austin to oppose the resolution.
“We’re talking seven busloads of ardent TWU supporters,” Carpenter said. “I learned more about the original purpose of TWU at the time, and why it was focused on what the university was focused on. Joe and Bob were responsible for getting the buses and the people on it to Austin. It was a successful initiative. Joe and Bob did that under the banner of the chamber.”
Alford is survived by his wife and their two sons, Mark Alford and Matthew Alford, and six grandchildren.
Memorials may be made to the Alford Endowment at TWU, or to St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. “Or to any place people want to give,” Betty Alford said.