John Alex Floyd Jr.
John Floyd John Floyd (1948-2021) was best known as the longtime vice president and editor-in-chief of Southern Living, the flagship publication of the Birmingham-based Southern Progress Corporation. Over 18 years, he advanced the widely read magazine’s reputation as the authority on regional food, culture, home and garden design, and travel and spearheaded the production additional publications specific to those interests. A highly trained and renowned horticulturalist, Floyd wrote several books on the topic and was active in the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and in philanthropic activities.
Floyd was born February 21, 1948, in Selma, Dallas County, to John Alex Floyd Sr. and Louise Johnson Floyd. As a child, he developed a lifelong interest in horticulture and garden design that led to a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture from Auburn University in 1970 and both a master’s degree in horticulture and a doctorate in plant physiology from Clemson University, in 1972 and 1975, respectively. He worked at Clemson as an agricultural assistant from 1973 to 1975 and then oversaw the agricultural technical program at Jefferson State Junior College from 1975 to 1977. He was later awarded an honorary doctor of humanities from Furman University
Southern Living In 1977, Floyd was named senior horticulturist for Southern Living and brought an emphasis on accuracy, authority, and professionalism to the garden department. Under his leadership, the garden staff was recognized for editorial excellence by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Arbor Foundation, and the Texas Forestry Association. During this same period, the editors published seven major garden books. He married Pam Lorene Billups in 1984, and the couple would have two sons.
In 1985, Southern Progress Corporation, then the parent company of Southern Living, launched Southern Living Classics, its first new title since 1966. Floyd was named editor of the new upscale magazine, which published only two issues before it was absorbed into new acquisition Southern Accents, with Floyd as editorial director. He additionally served as editorial director for Creative Ideas for Living and Cooking Light magazines before being named marketing services director for Southern Living, Southern Accents, Travel South, and Southpoint magazines. In that role, Floyd oversaw advertising promotion, merchandising, research, and other key functions. At the same time, he developed the entrepreneurial approach that would later enable him to maintain the high editorial standards of Southern Living while relying on its reputation to bring new revenue streams into the magazine and broaden its circulation base. Following the retirement of long-serving editor Gary McCalla, Floyd was asked to take the top editorial spot at the magazine in 1990 and was named vice president and editor-in-chief the following year.
Southern Progress Headquarters Floyd was a committed environmentalist who was instrumental in shaping the extensive wooded headquarters campus of Southern Progress, which opened on Birmingham’s Lakeshore Drive in 1989. Much of the site—almost 30 acres—was cleared by hand to protect plant life, and the tree line was preserved so that the complex’s substantial structures blended into the landscape. In 1994, Floyd accepted a National Landscape Award honoring the facility, presented during a ceremony at the White House. The same year, the American Society of Landscape Architects recognized the headquarters grounds with its Design Merit Award.
Overall, Floyd believed in working with the natural landscape, not molding it into something it was never meant to be. He is remembered for taking the same approach with his staff, working with each individual to find his or her most productive role at the organization. An educator at heart, Floyd relished opportunities to teach his staff, about everything from southern culture to the ins and outs of the magazine business. He was known for his focus on the needs of his audience, and he often used editorial meetings as a forum to emphasize best practices for reader services.
Floyd also encouraged staff to put themselves in the minds of readers, some of whom were not people of means, and to focus on content that was informative and enjoyable for multiple generations. Additionally, he promoted décor, cooking, and garden ideas aimed at a variety of income levels, with an emphasis on quality. A devotee of small-town southern life, he kept the focus of the content on ideas that were accessible to readers in small towns and middle-class families who made up the bulk of the magazine’s readers.
After retiring from Southern Living in 2008, Floyd remained active in his community, continuing to volunteer at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, where he had spearheaded the Southern Living Garden in 1981, oversaw the garden’s second master plan during his tenure as board chair, and was named director emeritus in 2020. Floyd helped secure memorial sculptures and other commissioned works for the gardens, including pieces honoring his own parents and notable people from Southern Living, including Emory Cunningham, Gary McCalla, Philip Morris, and Sara Askew Jones. There is also a decorative column and urn given to the gardens to mark Floyd’s retirement from Southern Living.
Floyd also volunteered for the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and on the Trussville School Board, serving as president for a term. He also contributed to the founding and growth of the city’s school system. For decades, he was a member of Huffman United Methodist Church, where he held many positions of service and volunteered weekly. Floyd died of cancer on February 7, 2021.
Floyd, John. Southern Living Gardening; Trees & Shrubs, Ground Covers, Vines. Birmingham, Ala.; Progressive Farmer Co., 1980.
———. Southern Living Gardening Guide. Birmingham, Ala.; Oxmoor House, 1981.
———. Southern Living Growing Vegetables with Herbs with Recipes for the Fresh Harvest. Birmingham, Ala.; Oxmoor House, 1984.