The Boy Who Loved Trees
A Perfect Testament to Paul Malvey
“And the boy loved the tree…very much. And the tree was happy.” – Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
This week marked the six-month anniversary of Paul Malvey’s passing. In life, Malvey was Fishtown’s “Green Thumb”, a horticultural enthusiast who planted and cared for trees and plants all over the neighborhood. Malvey also went on to work for the Street Tree Management Team for the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, spreading his knowledge beyond Fishtown’s borders to the rest of the city. Although Paul cared deeply about trees, flowers and neighborhood beautification, he was a man of many passions. He had a passion for Fishtown and its people that was unparalleled. He often spoke of the “rolling up our sleeves” and “taking care of our own” attitude displayed by most of his neighbors. Paul Malvey was, by all accounts, a giving man.
Paul was an integral part in the establishment and upkeep of Konrad Square on Dauphin Street between Tulip and Sepviva. So those who knew him best thought that this was the perfect place to honor Paul’s memory. On the morning of Thursday, May 3rd, members of Paul Malvey’s family, along with friends and co-workers attended a tree planting in Paul’s honor. The tree was a Metasequoia, also known as a Dawn Redwood. Metasequoias are the least tall of all species of Redwoods, but they can grow to be at least 200 feet tall.
The day was overcast, The weather and season were perfect for planting this Redwood. Photos of Paul faced the tree from a nearby table. As they I stood around this crowd, some crying, some laughing with stories about Paul and what an interesting and loving man he was. “A lot of people used to say, ‘he was a good guy’, but Paul really was a good guy,” said Nick Traynor, an arbor for the Parks and Recreation Street Tree Team.
“I’m told that these trees can live hundreds of years,” said Paul’s son Michael Malvey, “And they can grow really big. One day, this tree could be the biggest tree in all of Fishtown.”
Michael was joined at the dedication ceremony by Paul’s sisters Marianne Yeager and Maureen O’Connor and their first cousin Mary Rutecki. There were also several other Parks and Recreation Department employees, neighbors and friends of Paul Malvey.
The tree was lowered into the ground., then Fran Piller started off the service by saying a few words about Paul. Piller was Paul’s supervisor for three years at the Parks Department. “Paul was many things to many people,” Fran said, “To me, he was generous and funny.” Piller continued, stating, “He was very good to me, and I am grateful I had the chance to know him.”
Most of the attendees spoke at the planting ceremony. Joe Toohey, the District Supervsior for the Parks and Recreation Department, helped organize the tree planting ceremony. Toohey spoke of Paul’s spirit, stating, “I wish I knew him longer.”
Chris Palmer, the Parks and Recreation Operations Director said, “Old tree guys don’t have blood in their bodies. We have tree sap. And that’s what we are – old tree guys.” Palmer went on to say, “It’s great to be planting a larger than life tree for a man who was larger than life.”
A young man named Kevin Thompson, who shared an office with Malvey spoke highly of Paul. Thompson told a story about Paul giving him an entire collection of cookbooks. “We were different on the surface, but twins in spirit. I wouldn’t know half of what I know if it wasn’t for Paul.”
Paul’s sister Marianne spoke of the last plant he gave her before he passed away. Marianne thought it looked like a weed, but a bud on the plant sprouted on the day of her brother’s funeral. She called it “the resurrection plant”.
Paul’s sister Maureen read a beautiful tribute to her brother, especially focusing on his love of Fishtown and its people. She said, Paul always talked about the love and spirit of his neighbors. “He would feel honored to know this tree was planted in his honor.”
Michael Leff, an independent environmental consultant, worked with Paul several times in the past. Leff spoke of Paul’s passion for his work. Gladys Bukowski, a local schoolteacher and friend to Malvey, talked about Paul volunteering to visit and educate her students.
After friends and family were finished speaking, Michael then spread a good portion of Paul’s ashes around the roots of the tree. Some of Paul’s ashes were previously taken to Ireland and scattered, and Michael also kept some of the ashes to keep in his own home.
As he spread the ashes around the tree, Michael said with a smile, “Make it grow, Dad.”
All were invited to shovel in dirt around the tree, securing its foundation and roots. Just before the ceremony concluded, Michael said. “This is a perfect testament to someone who was so passionate about trees. I am honored to share my father with this tree.”
Paul Malvey’s tree stands on Dauphin Street not far from the corner of Sepviva. Years from now, that tree will overlook the neighborhood Paul loved so much. Paul would be happy to know that his neighbors will be able to sit in the shade of this tree. Hopefully, they will remember the kind of man he was and his legacy.