For a while Jessie called him Mr. Gardner. Then she called him Douglas. After they had known each other for some months and had become good friends he asked Jessie to call him F.D., so she did. I wish I had a picture of Francis Douglas Gardner for I would post it right here. My grandmother Jessie never once described his looks, only his acts and the ways in which he was such a loyal and generous friend to her, a gentleman in every way.
Francis Douglas Gardner (F.D.) came from a wealthy family in Liverpool, England. His family’s timber trade company, Joseph Gardner & Sons, had been operating since at least the middle of the 18th century. F.D. was in Memphis working in the timber business along the Mississippi River and often traveled to New Orleans or New York on business.
Jessie’s first date with F.D. was on May 22, 1916, and she wrote in her diary, “Had an engagement with Mr. Douglas Gardner to-night – direct from England and he is certainly a typical Englishman. I dearly love to hear him talk. He is very deliberate in his manner…. I think Mr. Gardner’s hobby is finding misspelt words. He showed me at least a dozen to-night – those signs in curios shops. He is a walker alright. We had such an interesting talk after we got home.” They continued to go out once or twice a month, and as they got to know one another and became closer friends, they went out more frequently.
F.D. was a little bit of a ladies’ man, according to Jessie. He had a group of girls/women in Memphis that he took out regularly, gave parties for their birthdays, and bought them gifts and flowers. On June 15, 1917, Jessie wrote in her diary, “Had an engagement for lunch to-day with Douglas Gardner. We had lunch at the Gayoso and had quite an interesting time. He told me tales of Borneo. He leaves to-morrow for Florida. How ‘the girls’ will miss him.”
The birthday parties he gave for Jessie and his other friends were lavish affairs with dinner for 12 or more at the Gayoso Hotel, the Country Club, or the Peabody. F.D. was also an accomplished and trained artist, and the place cards at his dinner parties were portraits of the guests (drawn by F.D. himself) in some fanciful setting, and included a bit of original prose or poetry. Every woman had a different corsage at their place, and the delicious dinner was a multi-course affair. After dinner and perhaps some dancing (live bands often played at the hotels), all the guests would drive out to someone’s home for games and wonderful prizes for everyone from F.D.. As Jessie said after her birthday, “It was all like a storybook party.”
Jessie often remarked how she’d never known anyone like F.D., that he was one of a kind, and that he was a wonderful friend. He was incredibly generous to Jessie and his friends. He almost always sent a corsage of beautiful flowers to Jessie if they had a date, and after a while every date ended with F.D. buying Jessie two boxes of candies (or rather, one box of chocolates and one box of salted almonds). After they had known one another for about a year, he began giving her very nice gifts from time to time. Sometimes Jessie would tell him that he shouldn’t give her so much, but he always said it made him happy to give gifts. When Bud died, F.D. was working in New Orleans, but he sent flowers to Jessie’s home every day. And whenever he came home to Memphis from a trip to New York or Liverpool or New Orleans, he came loaded down with presents for Jessie.
Not only was F.D. a sophisticated international traveler and businessman, an elegant gentleman from Liverpool, an artist and a poet, he was also an accomplished tennis player and an amateur golfer with club titles to his name. But most of all he was one of Jessie’s closest friends. I know that F.D. died in 1959 and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, so I hope that he and my grandmother Jessie remained friends throughout his life.
A final interesting note: Francis Douglas Gardner (F.D.) had an older brother, Gerald Brosseau Gardner, who is known internationally in pagan and occult communities as the “Father of Wicca.”