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Asheville man's rose ministry gives people solace in time of mourning

George Cox started a memorial garden after his wife passed away 21 years ago. Since then, it's remarkable resilience has taken root. (Photo credit: John Le, WLOS)

Our Person of the Week has a ministry of sorts, but it's not the kind with a preacher or a choir.

George Cox gives people comfort by encouraging them to see the beauty in the world around us.

He started a memorial rose garden after his wife Anne died in 1996.

The couple were married for 38 years.

"I believe, in society, a rose is a symbol of love, isn't it?" he asked of the flowers he nurtures with care. "You give them the same opportunity. You treat them the same, but some flourish and some don't."

"Try to get people to see the beauty and not the weeds," said Cox, who's found renewal in the landscape at The Laurels of Summit Ridge for 22 years. "This is a way I can work to express my gift," he says proudly.

At 81 years old, he understands the messages a gardener receives.

"I think we're supposed to stay active and contribute," he said. "It's been a real transformation."

A transformation that's been vital as George dealt with the sadness of losing Anne, who became a resident at the facility after being diagnosed with a rare brain disease.

"She went from being a very articulate, intelligent lady to a total vegetable in a period of two years," he recalls. "And everything changed."

Together they had founded the Hendersonville Rescue Mission in 1981. After his own struggles with alcohol, he wanted homeless people to have a safe haven.

"Seven years I stayed blind drunk and God delivered me for that," he said. "When I see people on the streets, behind that I see a fantastic person."

After Anne died, he found a different calling.

What started as a tribute to one person, his late wife, has grown into a rose patch in memory of 46 people.

"After she died, somehow my interest blossomed in flowers," George said of the blooming memento of precious lives lost. "Every beautiful rose, you've got families behind it grieving."

Eighteen years ago, he found a way forward and married his current spouse, Ruby.

George says she gave him new life after his time of grief.

"You don't have to quit," he said. "There's never a point in life when you have to quit."

"I think (Ruby) understands that and appreciates the fact that I didn't cast away the love for my first wife," George told us. "You don't do that."

The garden's a showcase for every stage of life, wowed with the seeds of love and respect.

"I feel that this is my ministry, lifting these people and making them feel better," George said.

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