Posthumous Honors Bloom for Longtime Warwood Couple Dr. William and Elizabeth Webb
Dr. William S. Webb and his wife Elizabeth (Ahart) Webb, longtime residents of the Warwood area of Wheeling, were posthumously inducted in January into the International Gladiolus Hall of Fame. One of their most celebrated creations — known as the White Symphony — was also inducted this year.
The gladiolus, sometimes known as the sword lily, is a popular garden flower that grows in a variety of petal styles and colors, and they are commonly used in long-lasting and eye-popping floral arrangements.
William Webb (1879-1952) was a family physician with extensive medical practice in Warwood and the surrounding area from 1909 until his death. His biography noted that he was “well-respected by his family, patients and medical colleagues, as well as the community at large, as more than 1,700 people attended his funeral to pay their last respects.”
Elizabeth Webb (1908-1975) was born in Budapest, Hungary, before her family migrated to the United States in 1912 and settled in West Virginia. She graduated from the Wheeling Hospital School of Nursing in 1929 and was a registered nurse with advanced training in the laboratory.
After the death of his first wife in 1935, William Webb started spending more time at Wheeling Hospital, where he met his future wife. The two shared many common interests aside from the practice of medicine, including a love of music and for nature’s beauty.
They were married in 1937.
According to their nomination into the International Gladiolus Hall of Fame, Elizabeth Webb had discovered how much her husband was spending for new varieties of flowers. She told him they could produce new cultivars, and they started a partnership for hybridization for many varieties of flowers — including peonies, irises, and of course, gladiolus.
“They experimented with many glad varieties and even produced a glad that had a double floret,” their nomination stated. “This glad did not prove to be viable and died within a couple of years. Research was also conducted on how radiation affected seeds. This research prompted them to expose some glad seeds to X-ray to see what would happen.”
The Webbs showcased several hybrids that showed promise, winning awards at the West Virginia Gladiolus Society show in 1950 and the North American Gladiolus Council in 1950 and 1951.
William Webb was a member of the leadership team for the West Virginia Gladiolus Society and collaborated with the other officers in planning for the gladiolus shows that were held in the Pine Room at Oglebay Park, the nomination explained.
“Residents of Warwood and the surrounding area enjoyed the Webb flower gardens, visiting them frequently,” according to their biography. “Many times, their visits to the gardens were made while waiting for their appointment to see Dr. Webb. Everyone was welcome.”
In 1946, the Webbs bought a farm to consolidate their gardens. Over an acre was set aside for their gladiolus, which included space for their hybridization test garden.
Two years after William Webb’s passing, his widow donated a bouquet of White Symphony gladiolus to be presented to renowned Metropolitan Opera star Helen Traubel after her performance at Oglebay Park’s amphitheater. Traubel, who shared a love of gladiolus, was delighted when Elizabeth Webb promised to send her several White Symphony bulbs for her garden. An article covering this presentation was included in the Aug. 9, 1953, edition of the Sunday News-Register.
Each year in January, the International Gladiolus Hall of Fame — based at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley — inducts individuals and cultivars who have made significant contributions to this unique yet wide-reaching society. The induction and presentation of awards typically take place during a show held in Canada, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that the Canadian border remains closed, plaques were mailed to the inductees this year.
The couple’s son, Bill Webb (William S. Webb Jr.), wrote and submitted the nomination that led to his parent’s induction into the international hall of fame. He recently received their induction plaques by mail.
“I was only 11 years old when my father died,” Bill Webb said. “But I remember him, and people who knew him would tell me so many complimentary things about him.”
Bill Webb said he was happy to nominate them for their posthumous honor and was thrilled when their induction was announced.
“They truly were leaders in the community,” said Bill Webb, who now resides in Nebraska. “They weren’t out to make a lot of money. My father was the ‘old country doctor,’ and his father before him was a doctor, as well. They said he didn’t charge patients who couldn’t afford to pay. He even told my mother on his death bed to burn the bills.
“It’s my feeling that they deserve all the recognition they can get.”