Man who selected Rockefeller Center tree dies

AP News
Posted: Jan 05, 2010 7:15 PM

David P. Murbach, who for 26 years meticulously scouted 80-foot spruces from the air and ground to find the perfect Christmas tree for New York's Rockefeller Center, has died. He was 57.

The manager of Rockefeller Center's gardens division was found dead in his West Palm Beach, Fla., apartment on Dec. 23, his longtime friend Andre Dupuis said Tuesday.

Dupuis said the horticulturist died from heart disease after suffering from high blood pressure.

"He was a very vibrant, passionate person," Dupuis said, adding that Murbach loved to travel and kept homes in East Hampton, N.Y., West Palm Beach and Buenos Aires, Argentina. "There's not much space left in his passport where he has not been."

Born in Amityville, N.Y., on July 19, 1952, Murbach had served in his current role with Rockefeller Center since 1984. In addition to his job as holiday tree finder, Murbach designed and maintained horticultural displays throughout the center.

He had a passion for teaching people, particularly children, about horticulture, "to bring the people to recognize the beauty of horticulture in public spaces," Dupuis said.

Thomas A. Madden Jr., the managing director of Rockefeller Center, said selecting the perfect holiday tree was on Murbach's mind every day of the year.

"That was his passion," Madden said. "Every day he woke up and thought about next year's tree."

Madden said Murbach would scout the tri-state region surrounding New York for potential candidates, first by helicopter before examining the tree on the ground to be sure it was the perfect fit.

Every detail counted.

"Dave would want to know the trunk was the right size ... the height was perfect, the needles were the right needles, not too hard, not too soft, so when this tree went center stage to the world, it was as close to perfect as it could be," Madden said.

"And once again, he nailed it, every year," Madden added.

Murbach also was active in the horticultural community, and founded the Metro Hort Group in New York City, an association of horticulture professionals in the area. He served as adviser to the board of directors at Old Westbury Gardens in New York and chaired the horticulture committee at Jack Lenor Larsen's LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, N.Y.

Murbach was a recipient of the Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University and the DuPont-Longwood Gardens Fellowship in public garden administration.

Murbach also served as a consultant, free of charge, to several institutions, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City, the Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Ore., and Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, Calif.