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Historic Hernando Preservation Society

Member Highlight: Robert Townsend, Stitched With Love

By: Mary J. Moses

Robert “Bob” Townsend was a remarkable man. Educated at the Chicago School of Design, Bob would live a life of beauty and creativity. Bob opened a decorating studio in New Haven Connecticut in the early 1950’s. A ball was being held for the Foot Guard near the time of President Eisenhower's inauguration. Nearly 2,000 people attended, and Bob Townsend would be the one to design and make the ball gown for the Major Commandant's wife, Sophia Swanson. The Commandant extended an invitation to Bob to attend the ball.

Bob was in attendance that evening, with his cousin on his arm. She wore a gorgeous gown Bob designed and made. Marilyn Swanson, the Major Commandants daughter, was there with her date as well. Somehow, Marilyn and Bob met, one dance led to another, and they ultimately switched dates for the evening. Bob impressed Marilyn’s parents with a beautifully written thank you letter.

Marilyn asked her parents permission to invite “Mr. Townsend” to the Policeman’s Ball. Her parents consented, and two and a half years later on June 26th 1954, they were married. Bob designed and made the dresses for the bride, the matron of honor, four brides maids, as well as gowns for the mother of the bride and mother of the groom.

Their lives were intertwined with fashion shows and decorating, Marilyn attended modeling school and modeled Bob’s designs. He made nearly all of Marilyn’s wardrobe.

A move to California encouraged Bob with his creativity, and he continued decorating and designing. He and Marilyn opened a restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, but the Caribbean was calling.

Bob secured a piece of property on the island of Montserrat, 250 miles South of Puerto Rico. Bob designed and decorated their beautiful Caribbean home. He also decorated the View Point Hotel and it’s cottages. Bob engaged local women in Montserrat in the art of tapestry. Here they created tapestries, totes, and like items.

Bob and Marilyn did a lot of work for the British Red Cross. Fashion shows and teas were some of the things they did best. Now, Winter Haven Florida was calling, from there to Mount Dora, on to Columbus Georgia, and finally, Brooksville Florida.

Bob loved to write, he wrote two short stories, and was working on a book. Soon he met writer Heddie Warner. She, recognizing his talent, encouraged Bob. During Founders Week in Brooksville, Bob designed and created a gown for Heddie to wear in the Founders Day Parade. Later that day, Heddie modeled the wonderful creation on a stage built in front of City Hall. Bob won first place for his design. The fashion show segwayed into an art and craft show being held in City Hall. Here guests were treated to a viewing of Bob's “Tapestries of Montserrat” collection.

Bob lived an excellent life, he took joy in helping Marilyn at the Brooksville Women’s Club. Here he made the drapes that adorned the windowed for seven years. He decorated a beautiful historic home on Broad Street, was a member of Historic Hernando Preservation Society, as well as Friends of Chinsegut. He stitched, created and wrote with love.

When Bob passed on March 3rd, 2016, he left behind a manuscript he had been working on. It was here the love of his life picked up the pieces and painstakingly typed her precious Bob’s novel. With the help of friend and local author Jerry Cowling, Marilyn was able to get Bob’s beloved work published. The Woffington: Life and Loves of an Actress is a story depicting the life and love of an Irish actress set in the 18th century, was born. Bob’s Book can be purchased on Amazon, or through Kindle.

Historic Hernando Preservation Society honored Bob Townsend’s life at their April meeting. Marilyn arrived to accept the award in one of Bob’s beautiful creations that was indeed, stitched with love.

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