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Eva Cassidy’s Day Job

Eva CassidyMany of you are familiar with the music of Eva Cassidy, who died of cancer in November of 1996. At the time she died, she was just making a name for herself in the Washington area, having completed a CD with Chuck Brown, and a concert CD, “Live at Blues Alley.” Her music has grown in popularity. Listeners of the BBC included her version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” among the 100 best songs of the 20th century, and Amazon.com recently reported that Eva’s CD’s are their overall number 5 best seller in music for the last 10 years.

Few of you know that Eva Cassidy worked full or part-time at Behnke Nurseries for fourteen years at our Largo, Maryland nursery, between 1981 and 1995. With the sale of the Largo property and the move of the greenhouses to Lothian, it seems like a good time to recollect Eva’s years at Largo.

When I started at Largo in 1984, Eva worked for the “Growing” department, as a transplanter. She performed general greenhouse work; watering, transplanting seedlings; pinching and tying poinsettias, and all of the other various things that greenhouse staff do. My recollection is that she was a petite blonde, very quiet and shy, and very hard working. Eva’s sister Anette, was also working part-time at the nursery while she completed a nursing degree, and her mother Barbara divided her time between transplanting at Largo and working in the Christmas Shop at Beltsville.

Eva CassidyEventually, Eva transferred to the Woody Plants production department (the first woman on the crew), which gave her a chance to work outside and get more exercise. In those days, our peat moss came in 6 cubic foot bales, loose on a semi. They were unloaded by hand, and stacked in the warehouse. We looked like a bunch of ants. Including Ant One, me, muttering to myself and dragging a bale, and Ant Two, Eva, with a bale of peat as big as she, balanced on her shoulder, climbing up a mountain of bales. She was only 5’ 2”, but loaded truckloads of trees right alongside the guys.

In addition to toughening up physically, I think being the only woman on a crew of nurserymen toughened her up mentally as well, and perhaps gave her more confidence to perform. (How much worse could an audience be?) Nursery work is hard and dirty, and not particularly glamorous. It includes a lot of potting, watering, weeding, and moving heavy plants around, in all weather. An excellent incentive to further develop talents like singing!

Her supervisor, Dave Nizinski, gave her some additional duties, including woody plant propagation. She made a lot of cuttings, especially leyland cypress. Many of you have plants in your gardens that were originally produced by Eva.

Eva CassidyAfter her initial cancer surgery, she made an effort to stay covered up while in the sun, and did more indoor work. She did some data entry. Computers were definitely not her first love — I remember many a conversation with Eva that included the question: “Did you remember to log in?” She also used her artistic talents to make some of the signs we had around the nursery.

As she became busier as a musician, she moved to a part-time position at the nursery, and eventually, she left to devote herself full-time to her career. It was only a few months before the cancer reappeared, and she died just as she was becoming a “name” in the Washington music scene. There are still a few of us “old timers” here who worked with Eva Cassidy.

Whenever I hear one of her songs, I think of the young woman transplanting in the greenhouse. She is gone, but she left us the gift of her music.

By Larry Hurley, Perennials Specialist

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. She was an amazingly talented lady! I love the way she sings, not songs, but poems… poems coming from heart. It’s a beautiful tender conversation Eva creates through her voice. She’s still loved and very much missed!

  2. Hi there.

    I am from the other side of the Atlantic, from Holland.
    How special to read something about Eva’s ‘normal’ life. I only know her music, it makes me feel calm. I love her voice and the way she performed. Too bad she had to leave us, but she gave the rest of the world an angel-like present.
    Sleep well and perhaps until the other side.

  3. This is a recent performance by Katie Melua “Far away Voice” — her tribute to Eva Cassidy, Katie’s inspiration

  4. Who knows if anyone will read this on time with Behnke’s closing. I am thinking of making a trip from Alexandria to see Behnke’s due to Eva’s work there. I consider myself THE #1 Eva Cassidy fan. There was truly only positive outcomes from her talents.

    1. We’re still here for a couple of more months! Eva spent most of her time working at our greenhouse and nursery complex in Largo, Maryland. That location was closed around 2008, and the property sold to the church on the adjoining property which intended to build a school there. All of our structures were demolished at that time or repurposed by the church. The 70 or so acre property itself is at 700 Watkins Park Drive, if I remember the address correctly.

      Larry Hurley

  5. I found it hard to believe that this shy little girl could find the courage to share the talent God blessed her with. I know her voice immediately and stop whatever I am doing to listen. I remeber the lunches at faunworths while I was working at the Largo location. I enjoyed the people I got to work with during my time there and have good memories. Thank you Eva for sharing and caring.

  6. Hi
    I’m currently making a Documentary about Eva’s life with the co operation of her family. If any of you remember any stories or incidents or have any pics etc relating to Eva please, please contact me. we will be hopefully filming later this year (Virus allowing!)

  7. Dear Larry,

    I was so moved to read your personal memories of Eva … I’m going to include this story – to inspire artists facing financial difficulties with Covid and a difficult economy, to help them see that a job not related to their field can give them a sense of direction, a sense of pride, solid income, and a routine, and also what you said about strength, body and soul, which helps feed into whatever creative project you are dreaming of doing full-time, but can’t. Lately I started working as a radio DJ. This Thursday night’s show, called Night Train, will feature Eva’s music and your story. I’ll also mention Malcolm Willis, and his wonderful plans to make a documentary film about Eva Cassidy.

    My email is martha.richler@gmail.com. You can listen to previous episodes of Night Train, featuring Eva Cassidy, by going to the Radio Winchcombe website, and tapping ‘listen again’. My November 19 show tells the story of ‘Autumn Leaves’. Malcolm Willis, I’d love to be involved somehow if you need a writer/researcher/cartoonist with a passion for music and Eva Cassidy’s music in particular. Best wishes, Martha (aka Marf)

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