Thoughts on the Legacy of T.L. Senn at Clemson
by Jere Brittain ’61
A member of Clemson’s extraordinary Class of ’39, Tee Senn passed away on January 12, 2016, at the age of 98. Longtime professor and chair of horticulture, Senn influenced the University through academics and agriculture, pedagogy and philanthropy. One of the driving forces behind the Class of ’39 Award for Faculty Excellence, he was instrumental in the founding of the South Carolina Botanical Garden, and the original 44 acres are dedicated in his honor. This essay is written by Jere Brittain, who was both a student and a colleague of Tee Senn.
When I registered for Horticulture 201 in 1959, I was an agriculture education major, inspired by admiration for my teacher at Mills River High School (N.C.). The Clemson professor was a young, charismatic South Carolinian with a fresh Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. He was Tee Senn, a member of the Clemson College Class of ’39. By mid-semester l had changed my major to horticulture, a turning point in my life that l have never regretted.
Richard Figliola (left) was named the recipient of the Class of 1939 Award in 2011.
As a teacher, Tee brought the study of plants to life for me. He understood and respected the need to explore plant processes at the tissue and cellular levels, but his real professional passion was for whole plants, especially when artfully assembled in gardens and when applied as therapy for populations with special needs. Tee was a pioneer in the evolution of horticultural therapy for persons with physical, mental and social impairments. The South Carolina Botanical Garden on the Clemson campus originated as a horticultural therapy garden and is a lasting memorial to Tee’s creativity in finding funds for an initiative that lacked support by the gatekeepers of horticultural science.
During my years as professor and occasional interim chair in the Department of Horticulture, it was my privilege to create two courses, Horticulture and Human Well-Being and Garden Experiences in Childhood Development, somewhat in Tee’s honor. The latter course provided the genesis for the current children’s gardening program at the gardens, and it descends directly from Tee’s teachings.
Tee was a visionary with big ideas. The evidence is all around the Clemson campus and extends far beyond through his students and their students. Clemson College produced its own greatest generation, and Tee Senn was one of its proudest members. Jere Brittain ’61 is professor emeritus of horticulture at Clemson.
Jere Brittain ’61 is professor emeritus of horticulture at Clemson.
Read another tribute to Tee Senn that was prepared for the annual Class of ’39 Memorial Service by Don McKale, Class of ’41 Memorial Professor of the Humanities.