Robert Eugene Lavender, a Middleburg, Florida resident for 41 years, died Tuesday, October 3rd, from complications due to an extended illness. He is predeceased by Carolyn Reese Lavender, his wife of 55 years; and survived by his brother Kenneth Lavender, his two daughters Karen Cunningham and Debbie Stahr, five grandchildren and five great-grand children. He was a man of intelligence, integrity, accomplishment and adventure who was invested in the lives of his family and friends, in wildlife, the environment, and in the betterment of society at large. His family will be hosting a “life celebration” for Bob at O’Charlie’s restaurant on Fleming Island this Saturday (October 8, 2017) at 4:30pm – friends are invited to attend. Donations may be sent in lieu of flowers to some of his favorite charities: The Sierra Club, The Wounded Warrior Project, or Rodeheaver Boy’s Ranch in Palatka, Florida.
Bob Lavender lived by a code of excellence and with an appetite for adventure that allowed him to achieve as much in one lifetime as three or four other people. He was a member of ROTC in high school and college, captain of his college debate team and a Kappa Sigma fraternity member. During this time he formed lifelong friendships with a coterie of young men who called themselves “The Gents.” Forty years later, these men and their wives met to go 4-wheeling in the Baja desert!
His first career was with the United States Navy. During his career he visited many countries around the globe, and received certificates for crossing the equator and for sailing around Cape Horn while circumnavigating the globe on the USS Shangri-la. During his time off in foreign ports he enjoyed exploring the country – learning local customs and familiar phrases, visiting the spots recommended by the natives, and sampling native cuisines – and then sharing these with his family when he arrived home. He returned from Japan with zabutans, kimonos and chopsticks (which he taught us all to use); then prepared a traditional Japanese meal, which we all ate with our chopsticks, wearing our kimonos, seated around the coffee table on our zabutans! He was an accomplished Naval fighter pilot who instructed at the Top Gun’s precursor program; he then retired after 25 years of service as a Commander and a veteran of the Vietnam war.
Upon retiring, Bob returned to college and graduated with a degree in computer science, and embarked upon his 2nd career of running his own software development company. Some deep and lasting friendships were formed with clients of his software design and development. At home, Bob was always active and enjoyed learning new skills – which were usually acquired from books that he bought on his next project. He performed most of his own car maintenance and repair, and restored vintage TR-4s – rebuilding engines, re-upholstering the interior, repainting the body. He built their bedroom and dining room furniture, their stereo and even their television; as well as a sailboat and canoe. When a contractor left with most of their payment for work to complete their retirement home, Dad (with the help of his wife and daughter Debbie) completed the work himself – walls, ceilings, flooring, roofing, doors & windows, and so on. The local paper actually published an article about this accomplishment entitled, “The House that Lavender Built.”
When he retired his software company, Bob and his wife Carolyn embarked upon a full-time career of adventure. To quote Carolyn, they “really LIVED!” Over the next decade they saw everything of note to see on the North American continent – going as far north as the arctic circle, to the southernmost tip of Mexico. The 4-wheel drive tow vehicle was necessary because they often explored areas a regular car could not manage. They also gave all of their grandchildren turns at having grand adventures, taking them to any places they particularly wanted to see, while adding a host of unexpected and exciting surprises – those trips have become lifelong treasured memories for them all. During this period, Bob so closely resembled Santa Clause that children all over the country asked their parents to meet him – he thoroughly enjoyed playing that role!
Bob and Carolyn also restored a motorboat, and enjoyed exploring the world by water. They cruised from Jacksonville to Norfolk, Virginia on the Intracoastal Waterway; and cruised from their home dock on Black Creek to ports along the St. Johns river. They treated their family to Jacksonville fireworks from a front-seat riverside view, and Bob enjoyed teaching his grandchildren to steer.
Bob had a lifelong passion for cooking and eating well. He attended many professional classes, including a Cajun cooking program in New Orleans; and was accomplished enough to be referred to as “Chef Robert” by his instructor! He was an avid reader, who shared this love by reading bedtime stories to his daughters – Rudyard Kipling was a favorite. He was also involved in preservation of wild life and the environment. He regularly fed raccoons, squirrels and birds from his deck; and contributed to numerous wildlife preservation and conservation societies. He also enjoyed bridge for many years, was still actively participating in several bridge groups, teaching bridge and was a master point bridge player.
Robert Lavender had a highly intelligent, inquisitive mind; and an adventurous, energetic spirit. There was nothing he tried that he was unable to master, nothing he dreamed of that he was unable to accomplish. He cared about his family, friends, neighbors, country and world; and worked to make his world a better place. He will be missed.