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Local florist recalls former First Lady Reagan

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JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- Tributes continue to pour in for former First Lady Nancy Reagan as officials at the Reagan Library move forward with plans for her funeral later this week. But the former First Lady is also being remembered locally by a man who served as the White House florist and designer for quite a few years..

George Griffith, co-owner of the Flower Barn in Johnstown, helped decorate the White House for the holidays and private parties for years. He said it was Mrs. Regan who brought him there in the first place. And while she's not the

first lady he worked beside, she is the one he has the fondest memories of.

"She was very formal, very appreciative, very gentle, very quietly spoken and she couldn't be more expressive in her appreciation," said Griffith. "It was always a great honor."

Griffith, now of Ligonier, has owned the Flower Barn for nearly 60 years, but he's also had a more prestigious side gig for some of that time.

Griffith and his longtime partner Tom O'Brien were familiar faces at the White House where they designed the decorations and arrangements that adorned the hall ways and rooms for the holidays as well as dozens of parties and dinners for nearly two decades. Their work was also featured in magazines and TV shows.

"It was never the same,'" he said. "Every time it was always a new excitement."

Griffith made his mark as an undergrad at Penn State where he helped to float more than 2,000 water lily blooms for President Dwight D. Eisenhower's visit in 1955.

"It was on the cover of life magazine with the water lilies and in appreciation he said, 'If I can ever do anything for you...'".

And there was a year or so later when Griffith asked for part of a lotus water plant that was determined to be the oldest seed to ever be germinated.

"We grew them all and Nancy Reagan heard that we had those blooms and invited us to do a state dinner party," Griffith said.

From there a relationship was built and history was made. That's why, for Griffith, Mrs. Reagan's passing this week is personal.

"She was so appreciative," he said. "All president wives have not been the same, but she was really an exception."

While Mrs. Reagan was always appreciative of his help, Griffith said it's he who is appreciative of her for the lifetime of memories she helped him create.

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