For William Gray, a retired medical doctor and Army veteran, orchids have been a source of tranquility, beauty and friendship.
It all started in 1964 when a neighbor in Waianae asked Gray to help him transplant some orchids. He did, of course, and in return the neighbor gave him a gift of 20 plants.
That was just the beginning of a passion that would lead Gray to become president of three different orchid clubs in Hawaii as well as a certified American Orchid Society judge in 2003.
Gray, 75, has probably cultivated more than 800 orchids in his lifetime, many of them prize-winners.
"I treated them like my children," he said.
As a family practice physician, Gray treated many patients and delivered quite a few babies, including one in a helicopter over Pearl Harbor. The orchids were an escape after a hectic day at work.
"I would go out there (to the lanai) and turn my mind off and just look at the orchids and maybe talk to them," he said. "To go home and be with nice, blooming orchids was a break."
After retiring in 1994, it was the orchids that also kept him busy.
He was president of the Kunia Orchid Society, Honolulu Orchid Society and Mililani Orchid Club — all at the same time — and a member of the Aiea and Windward clubs and the Pacific Orchid Society.
Gray says it would be hard to pick a favorite orchid, but he enjoys vandas for their strength, beauty and abundant blooms. He also likes cattleyas, which were the first orchids he owned.
Gray, who is moving back to Indiana to be closer to his siblings and five children, will be among those honored at a special reception before this weekend’s Kunia Orchid Show.
"No matter what we did, he was always there," said Callman Au, co-chairman of the Kunia show. "He is a stalwart. He has been a real asset to the club, and we appreciate him."
The Kunia Orchid Show, in its 57th year, is for the first time highlighting Japanese plants and floral artistry, with participation by the Honolulu Rainbow Bonsai Club. Besides the Hawaii Sogetsu Ikebana Display, a yearly attraction at the show, there will be a miniature Japanese garden and a colored ti leaf display featuring unusual varieties.
Four Oahu orchid clubs will showcase their best blooms, and an orchid expert will be available to answer questions. The public is invited to bring their plants to the show for evaluation and grooming.
The popular Kunia Kountry Store will offer gardening supplies, ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables for sale.
Judging orchids is an art, Gray said. It requires knowledge, experience and a little intuition.
He said he looks at the plant’s foliage, stems, color and purity, and whether the orchid conforms to the standard for its genus — "just like at a dog show, where the dogs have to conform to a certain standard for their breed."
In preparation for his move back to the mainland, Gray gave away all of his beloved orchids to friends. In Indiana, he doesn’t plan to grow any but will probably attend shows and enjoy other people’s blooms.
When asked if he would return to Honolulu, he said: "Are you kidding? I plan to be back. I’ll be back for major orchid shows."
57th annual Kunia Orchid Show:
» When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
» Where: Leilehua High School Gym
» Cost: $2 donation requested