William C. "Billy" Foard, president and co-founder of Valley View Farms of Cockeysville — where he once displayed the world's largest pumpkin — died of heart disease Jan. 25 at Union Memorial Hospital. The Phoenix resident was 78.
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of John B. Foard Jr. and his wife, Ruth Coggins, who owned and operated a family farm in Hydes.
Mr. Foard attended Carroll Manor Elementary School and was a graduate of Staunton Military Academy in Staunton, Va.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Cornell University.
"He liked telling people he was a good old country boy," said his daughter, Elisabeth C. "Lisa" Foard, a Fells Point resident. "But he was a shrewd businessman who had an Ivy League education."
Mr. Foard returned to his family's Hydes farm after he left Cornell. He had married Katharine "Kay" Andrew and the couple had a baby daughter, so he began thinking of additional revenue sources for the family business.
He and his older brother, John B. "Punky" Foard III, rented a parcel of land on York Road in Cockeysville. They opened a small produce stand on April 13, 1962. Their father was superstitious about opening on a Friday the 13th, but they went ahead with the plan because Easter was 10 days away and they wanted to sell flowers. The only vegetable from the farm was early spinach. They got some spring onions from a neighboring farmer and had their own fresh eggs.
"My father's core values were character, work ethic and integrity," his daughter said. "He believed if you worked hard and made sound decisions, success would follow. He was also the kind of person who came to work to get dirty."
For about the first 25 years, Mr. Foard and his brother sold produce and flats of annuals. They gradually added perennials, shrubs and patio furniture. Mr. Foard operated the nursery and garden center, including displays of shovels, rakes and watering cans, and his brother launched a successful Christmas goods department and water garden section. Nearly 35 years ago they began selling less produce and expanded their garden and holiday departments.
"Billy was a friend and mentor to many of us," said Carrie Engel, a manager at Valley View Farms. "Just the other day he was asking about sales numbers minutes before asking about my family. Billy was kind, fair and made us live up to his high expectations."
His son, Stuart B. Foard, a Reisterstown resident, said, "I learned about a strong work ethic from my dad. He was a guy who valued a productive day."
Another son, William A. "Andy" Foard of Parkton, said: "My father was a smart, hardworking, generous man with a million friends."
His daughter recalled that Mr. Foard was a tomato fancier.
"He took a winter trip to Barbados every year and he'd be on the plane with a Burpee's seed catalog on his lap," she said. "He had a 10-acre garden on Manor Road and grew so many tomatoes he had to build a separate canning shed.
"He was a farmer and was very much in the science of plants," said Ms. Foard. "He understood plant management, diseases and what would grow best under what conditions."
He also grew his own cucumbers, peppers and asparagus.
Mr. Foard made Valley View Farms a destination in the autumn, when his pumpkin crop came in. He was promotional-minded and sought to separate his business from his competitors'. He sought tremendous pumpkins and called on the media to feature them.
In 1989 he contacted a farmer who had grown the largest pumpkin that season at a farm in Hemmingford, Quebec. The pumpkin was hauled to a weigh-off in Collins, N.Y., where it won top honors as the world's largest pumpkin. Mr. Foard and his son carted it to Cockeysville in a step van. He had a sign painted with the words, "World's largest pumpkin."
His daughter recalled that he also liked to make his own Christmas presents.
"He was famous for his home-grown bloody mary mix he made from his own tomatoes," she said. "He'd give quarts away at the holidays."
A visitation will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
In addition to his daughter and sons, survivors include his wife of 56 years; a sister, Suzanne Foard of Vermont; and four grandchildren.