If you’ve ever enjoyed Fort Myers Burroughs Home’s gracious presence, been charmed by its neighbor Dean Park, or admired the restored J. Colin English Elementary School or the Old Lee County Courthouse, you’ve got a feel for this. that Robert Everett Sanford Jr. worked on. to bring his community.
But if you had more than a passing acquaintance with the man, you might not recognize him by this formal grip. In all of his countless pursuits as an architectural designer, photographer, cyclist, storyteller, bon vivant, advocate of the arts, and engaged citizen, he was quite simply Bob, a name as succinct and to the point as he was.
Bob Sanford died earlier this month at his Fort Myers home from prostate cancer. He was 70 years old.
“I hate to call him a Renaissance man because it’s a cliché, but he was,” says Andrea Tuttle, his love and partner for 10 years.
She remembers how he came back to her life.
“My very first impression – well, I can’t tell you my first impression of him, because we knew each other in high school, but over 30 years later he ruined my 60th birthday party,” recalls- her, “and it was just a shock. He was leaning against the doorjamb, just leaning casually, and there was such confidence without bravado – that deep feeling of someone who had challenged and succeeded, but was not. a boast about it, just a very deep and silent stillness and certainty. about him and who he was.
Sanford was forged in ancient Florida. Technically he was born in Orlando, but he always claimed Williston was his birthplace. It was certainly Williston who shaped it, says former wife Toni Ferrell of Fort Myers. Three generations of his family lived in the small town of central Florida, where his grandfather had built “the bank,” Ferrell says. “In Williston, old dark oak trees draped in moss lined the streets and you could walk from the outskirts to downtown. The pastoral quality and slow pace of South Williston reflected many aspects of the life that Bob cherished.
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As a talented corporate restaurant manager, Bob’s dad was constantly reassigned to “problem” places, “where he would turn a business from failure to success,” says Ferrell. “This meant that Bob, his mother and his three sisters were constantly uprooted, moving all over Florida.
His early education may have been rambling, but he was a dedicated student who had excellent teachers. It wasn’t until he was in arithmetic in college that he found out he already had a mastery of the subject his grade 5 teacher had simply called “math,” Ferrell recalls, laughing.
Even so, the constant movements were difficult. Years later, the restaurant industry made up for some of the turmoil of childhood by awarding him a scholarship, Ferrell says. Sanford was the first in his family to attend, but it wasn’t easy: he went to school for a while before he had to quit and go to work for a bit.
During and between his years at St. Pete Junior College, University of Florida and Virginia Tech, Sanford raised pigs, cultivated sod, erected steel buildings (until he fell from a average height of Washington, DC) and worked for several years in the darkroom to produce quality images of fine machinery for Litton Industries, Ferrell says.
At UF, Bob worked with master photographer Jerry Uelsmann, who has become a major influence. Camera work remained prominent while he attended Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture & Urban Studies, where he mainly worked on black and white films, with medium format cameras, doing his own darkroom work. . Later in life he would build a dark room at home. “He loved black and white photography – he loved the structure and the shape and the negative and positive of it all,” Tuttle says.
Ferrell remembers their time at college, where they met, “roaming the small town in the dead of night when the streets were deserted, in an effort to capture moonlight, waterfalls. undisturbed snow, streetscapes and buildings in the dark and frozen landscape, ”she said. . “After these adventures, we would retire from the cold to sit on the hardwood floor in front of a roaring fire, and talk. Late at night, Bob shared personal stories, many of which featured his maternal grandfather – a dry-minded Scotsman named William Samuel McDougald, who Bob missed very much.
It was from this Scotsman and his mother that Bob inherited his stubbornness, says Ferrell, but he was proud of that aspect of his ancestors; they were all equally stubborn and happy to be. It was from this Scotsman that Bob learned the powerful properties of turpentine – a solvent that lived in a jar on his kitchen window sill. And it was from this Scotsman that Bob developed his wry sense of humor, often using it to quietly test the attention and perception of a new customer or acquaintance, she says.
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While in college, he and Ferrell volunteered as project directors for a study and master plan for the town of Blacksburg, Virginia for nearly four years. The resulting book, “Blacksburg: Town Architecture – Understanding a Virginia Town” has been reprinted several times over the past 30 years, eventually featured and studied by many small towns across the United States.
In October 1986, the couple moved to Fort Myers, Florida to get married and begin their architectural career, Ferrell says. He interned at Schmitt Design Associates in 1987 under the supervision of Ken Lamers. In 1988 he joined Michael Flanders, now President and CEO of Edison and Ford Winter Estates, to form Flanders Sanford Architects Inc. and the two worked together for a decade. Their relationship dates back to the 1970s, when they were students at UF before they both moved to Virginia Tech for their masters. Sanders fondly remembers him as “a lot of fun and a very smart guy (and) a really talented designer”.
The two were pioneers of the office in historic downtown Fort Myers, settling in the Patio de Leon long before it was rediscovered and reborn as a hip place at a time when “very few people were there. and the Patio de Leon was sort of a wreck. ” They then helped the city renovate it, with cobblestones and shade trees.
“We’ve had a few big preservation projects,” Flanders says, including J. Colin English and Cypress Lake Middle schools. He calls the latter “one of the old classic outdoor finger layout schools … it’s still one of my favorite projects today, because it shows kids can be outside under covered walkways. while living a good life and being educated “. Even now, when Flanders sees their projects, “I think of Bob and his involvement.
“Bob has always believed in quality and doing it right,” says Flanders.
In 1999, he joined his architect wife, Ferrell, forming a partnership that incorporated a year later as Ferrell Sanford Studio Inc, and continued to practice until 2007. In 2006, Bob began to working with RS&H, ultimately serving as the Senior Project Manager and RS&H Representative. in the Fort Myers area, while mentoring young design professionals. Some of the projects he was most proud of included the 21st Century Oncology Building and the Florida SouthWestern State College Student Services Building.
Throughout his time in Southwest Florida, he was a generous and prolific volunteer, serving on several citizens’ councils. He helped found the Lee Trust for Historic Preservation and became its chairman. Sanford was a fearless truth-teller who “wasn’t at all afraid of confrontation if he felt something was wrong,” Tuttle says. “And it didn’t matter who it was. He just had the courage to speak very directly (and) he just said what he was thinking, ”she says. “Yet if he felt he was wrong, he would admit it.”
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Sanford relished the pleasures of life: reading (especially history), boating, traveling, fishing, biking (he raced around Lake Okeechobee and started from his home in Fort Myers to the Point from Captiva and back, says Tuttle).
Yet for all he has accomplished, most always beckoned.
“He had a curiosity that couldn’t be sated in several lifetimes for a thousand different things,” Tuttle says.
Then there was cooking, another of his loves. “My favorite memory is watching him in the kitchen,” Tuttle says. “He would cook, he would be barefoot, he would conduct while listening to Lyle Lovett, and he would dance and sing and it was just amazing watching him and listening to him,” she said. “He had a great voice, just a beautiful deep and deep voice,” which he accompanied with an ancient harmonica.
It doesn’t matter if he has a brand new harmonica, Tuttle said; that one remained in the holster.
“This one was falling apart, but it’s the one he insisted on playing because it was his grandfather’s.
“It’s just who he was.”