When Alexis Renee Smith needs good advice on being the Texas Rose Festival’s duchess of the rose growers, she doesn’t have to look far.
Her mother, Shannon Tate Burton, served in the role in 1998 and her aunt, Jennifer Tate Guajardo, was the duchess in 2003.
“She helps me a lot,” Smith said of the advice her mother gives. “She told me (when onstage during the Queen’s Coronation) to take my time and walk slow.”
“It’s your time to be in the spotlight,” Burton said. “You’ll want to show off your dress.”
But perhaps Burton’s best advice to her daughter was to enjoy every moment. “I told her to have fun because it goes by very fast.”
Growing roses is part of Smith’s heritage.
Until the early 1900s, the primary cash crop in the area was peaches. When a blight wiped out orchards, many farmers started growing roses.
Smith’s great-great-grandfather, Percy Otis “PO” Tate, founded Tate Nursery in 1935. Tate passed the business down to his son and daughter-in-law, Otis and Bobbie Tate, who in turn passed it down to their son, Trent Tate. Tate Nursery closed in 2016 after the death of Trent Tate.
For decades, Tate Nursery was a supporter of the Texas Association of Nurserymen and Texas Rose Research Foundation. Family members were active in Friends of the Rose, a rose-industry support group. Tate Nursery supplied many bushes that were planted in the Tyler Rose Garden and some of the tens of thousands of rose blooms used each year in the festival.
In 2000, the East Texas State Fair Association honored the Tate family as its Family of the Year.
Smith grew up hearing stories from older family members about the rose industry and has fond memories of going out in the rose fields with her grandfather.
“Pawpaw would take me out on the tractor,” recalled Smith. “It’s cool that my family has had such a big part in growing roses.”
Smith attends the University of Texas at Tyler where she is majoring in nursing and is a member of Delta Gamma sorority. She has volunteered at nursing homes and the Watkins-Logan Texas State Veterans Home, a retirement center for veterans.
Earlier this year, she graduated with honors from Tyler Junior College with an associate degree in arts-general studies.
Smith’s family includes her mother and stepfather, Shannon and Sam Burton; her father and stepmother, Aaron and Heather Smith; her younger sister, Addison Burton; and brothers, Trey Burton and Jagger Shuck.
Besides her mother and aunt, Smith’s other family members who have contributed to the Texas Rose Festival are her great-grandmother, Bobbie Tate, who for many years helped put together arrangements of roses that were used in the Rose Show and at other festival events; and her uncle, Alan Etheredge, who was an escort in 1991.
Other family members include Ruth Cross, great-great grandmother; Mrs. Charles DeSoto, Ken Wise and Floyd Harris, great-grandparents; Mr. and Mrs. Victor Worley, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Neff, Mr. and Mrs. Alan Wilkerson, Lynn Burton, Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Burton and Mr. and Mrs. Scotty Smith, grandparents; Trey Burton, Addison Burton and Jagger Shuck, siblings; Mr. and Mrs. Alan Etheredge, Mr. and Mrs. Eric Guajardo, Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Wester, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce DeSoto, Michael Tate, Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Taylor, Mr. and Mrs. Curt Priddy, Mr. and Mrs. Larry Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Mike Burton and Mr. and Mrs. Thad Tate, aunts and uncles.
During appearances as the duchess of the rose growers, Smith has said she is honored to represent all with ties to the region’s rose-growing industry.
“The rose is the symbol of our city and its beauty is ever-present,” she said during the news conference at which Texas Rose Festival court members were announced. “The industry my family and so many others began is still attracting tourism to our beautiful city.”
She praised volunteers and supporters for giving “their time and money to make this extraordinary festival come to life year after year.”
At Rose Sunday, an event held in April to draw attention to the Tyler Rose Garden and rose industry, Smith reflected on the impact of roses in the region.
“Our community is truly blessed by the legacy of our Tyler roses and all the efforts of the growers, processors and the festival that have made them famous over all these years,” she said.
At a news conference held during the week of queen’s court summer rehearsals, she again drew attention to the rose industry, Tyler and the festival.
She again praised the festival’s many volunteers and supporters.
During the festival, set for Thursday-Sunday, Smith will be featured at the Rose Queen’s Coronation, the Rose Parade and Queen’s Tea along with Rose Queen Hanna Claire Waits, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Scott Waits of Tyler, and Rose Princess Elizabeth Anne Schoenbrun, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ron Schoenbrun of Tyler.
As the duchess of the rose growers, Smith has the honor of being the first member of the Rose Queen’s Court presented during the Queen’ Coronation ceremony at the University of Texas at Tyler’s Cowan Center.
She will take the stage wearing a gown designed by Winn Morton of Lancaster. Without giving away details, Smith said the dress is beautiful and perfectly represents her family’s rose-growing history.
Burton said when she first saw her daughter in the gown, she was overcome with emotion.
“It really hit me at the (dress) reveal,” she said. “I admit, a few tears fell.”