Former West Hartford Community Services Director Dies – We-Ha

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Rob Rowlson, who retired as West Hartford’s director of community services in 2013, died Monday at age 73.

Rob Rowlson stands near the steps of West Hartford Town Hall. Courtesy picture

By Ronni Newton

Rob Rowlson had the kind of magnetic personality that made everyone in a room feel immediately comfortable, loved and engaged, and when he retired at 64 as longtime director of community services at the town of West Hartford in June 2013 was to celebrate a new chapter in his life that involved spending more time with his family and supporting organizations close to his heart.

Rowlson, who in retirement split his time between West Hartford and Old Saybrook, died Monday, July 25, surrounded by his family. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with aggressive cancer, which his family said was caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

Always smiling and energetic, Rowlson had surprised a full house at the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce’s economic development luncheon in March 2013 by announcing that he planned to retire.

“I made the decision when Richard Patrissi died,” Rowlson said at the time, adding that the death in early March 2013 of the informal “mayor of Park Road”, who had been his good friend for more than 30 years, made him realize that he couldn’t continue to work 60 hours a week indefinitely and that he needed to take time for himself.

Rowlson, who grew up in the Elmwood section of West Hartford, was a veteran who served four years in the United States Navy, which included a tour of South Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

He married his 53-year-old wife, Barbara, after returning from Vietnam and the couple spent the rest of their deployment on active duty in Key West, Florida, before returning to Connecticut where they served as dorm managers while he was graduating from Central Connecticut State University. under the GI Bill.

They moved back to West Hartford and Rowlson worked at his father’s property appraisal firm, Rowlson Co., in Newington, served on the West Hartford City Council, coached football and started a legacy of volunteer work with several non-profit organizations and on behalf of the veteran community.

In the 1990s, he went to work for the city of West Hartford, and in 2008 he was named director of community services – a role which, at the time, was responsible for the city’s economic development efforts. He was instrumental in the redevelopment of Blue Back Square as well as other city projects, and after his retirement he remained involved in economic development as a consultant.

“He often commented on how lucky he was to be able to do a job he believed in for the city he had always loved,” his family wrote in the obituary.

Left to right: Tracy Flater and Johnny Paindiris, Co-Chairs of the Park Road Association, with Rob Rowlson and Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor. Celebrity Breakfast fundraiser for Park Road Parade. June 9, 2015. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (file photo we-ha.com)

“Without Rob Rowlson, West Hartford wouldn’t be the vibrant community it is today,” said Ron Van Winkle, the former West Hartford city manager who worked closely with Rowlson and considered him a partner. and a close friend.

“He will be missed by all who knew him well and by all who appreciate his efforts to grow West Hartford from a quiet suburb to the award-winning community it is today,” said Van Winkle. “Rob was instrumental in bringing Blue Back Square and the Delamar Hotel to the West Hartford Center and revitalizing the Park Road shopping area. A hard worker and dedicated to the economic development of the whole community, he was our biggest salesman.

“Rob cared deeply about West Hartford,” Mayor Shari Cantor said. “He has worked tirelessly with our businesses, alongside our businesses and for our businesses. He was instrumental in developing relationships that led to the transformational development of Blue Back Square,” she said.

“He really loves life and lived every day to the fullest,” Cantor said. “My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

“Few people were as quintessentially West Hartford as Rob was,” former mayor Scott Slifka said. “He grew up here, was a member of the city council, worked and defended the city.”

L to R: Former City Manager Barry Feldman, Ron Van Winkle, Poet Laureate Christine Beck, Mayor Shari Cantor, Rob Rowlson, Society Attorney Pat Alair. Tribute to the retirement of Ron Van Winkle. May 30, 2017. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (file photo we-ha.com)

Slifka said that while Rowlson had formal policy-making responsibility for the city’s economic development, “a good part of how he did his job was on the streets. He built relationships with small business owners and then was able to take those one-on-one conversations and translate them into policy for the city,” he said.

“Incorporated into everything he did was that it was his hometown. He loved this place,” Slifka said. “It wasn’t just a job, it was a calling.”

Slifka said you just have to walk through West Hartford and see not just the physical construction but also the people, and it’s clear how much Rowlson has contributed to the city’s success.

“I am incredibly saddened by the loss of my good friend, colleague and mentor, Rob Rowlson,” said Tracy Flater, co-founder and executive director of Playhouse on Park. His support of Playhouse on Park and the Park Road area has been unwavering and I will be forever grateful. He had an incredible talent for bringing people and businesses together for the good of both, which helped build a stronger community. This skill set was a gift to all who worked with him. My heart goes out to everyone who loved Rob – he is truly irreplaceable and will be sorely missed.

Rob Rowlson and Renee McCue host the 20th Annual Park Road Parade. West Hartford, Connecticut. October 6, 2018. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (file photo we-ha.com)

“I was heartbroken when I heard the news today,” said West Hartford public relations specialist Renée McCue. “I have so many fond memories of Rob and will miss him dearly. He was my partner for the Park Road Parade announcement even after he retired from the city and he was my co-host on our talk show. local cable television, “Hometown”. With his signature mug of Dunkin’ Donuts in hand, we would set off to interview and film various stories around town. We spent a lot of time laughing and chatting. He was a man good and a dear friend. My condolences go out to his family at this difficult time.”

“I am truly saddened to learn of Rob’s passing,” said Leon Davidoff, a longtime member of city council who once served on the city plan and zoning commission. “I will always remember Rob as someone who loved our city – he loved promoting the city of West Hartford and took an active role in supporting our business community and encouraging economic development. We will miss him.”

Rowlson has served on multiple boards over the years, and his retirement party was a ‘toast/roast’, as well as a fundraiser for two of his favorite nonprofits – Playhouse on Park and West Hartford Community Television (now called West Hartford Community Interactive), raise more than $10,000 through a ‘shave’ or ‘save’ fundraiser. Donors were given the choice of whether or not Rowlson’s signature mustache would follow him into retirement, and the last-minute donation that saved the mustache was applauded by his family.

Rob Rowlson, who retired several years ago as Director of Community Services, was one of three hosts for the Ron Van Winkle Retirement Tribute. May 30, 2017. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (file photo we-ha.com)

Rowlson is survived by his wife, Barbara, his daughters, Allison and Jenna, his sons-in-law, four grandchildren, his sisters and brothers-in-law, numerous nieces and nephews, his beloved dog and cat and countless friends.

“Rob has two wonderful daughters and four amazing grandchildren; he always made sure they knew they meant more to him than anything else in the world. He never missed an opportunity to chaperone a field trip, coach a team, attend a musical production or sporting event, or exclaim on a newsletter, an artistic creation, or go fishing. … Rob was a brother, a father, a friend and a grandfather to all. He was always ready to help a neighbor, organize a game of streetball, inflate a bicycle tire or an outrageously large swimming float, launch a boat, take a nap with a grandchild or rig a line. He was willing to share his favorite spots to catch a striper or bluefish with anyone – as long as he could serve as a personal guide and take the opportunity to see if he could catch a few at the same time. time,” reads the obituary.

The the full obituary can be read online here.

The visits will take place on Friday, July 29 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Sheehan Hilborn Breen Funeral Home, 1084 New Britain Avenue, West Hartford, followed by funeral at Fairview Cemetery in West Hartford.

Her family is requesting that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to support one of her favorite passion projects, Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford 06119.

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