Monday, April 30, 2012

Paulette Vitrier (Crabtree Schindler) Blair - We Will Miss You

I admired Paulette Blair long before I ever personally knew her.  Back in the winter of 1981-82, when I was living in Michigan and just getting ready to graduate from college, I opened up my copy of W, which at the time was in a large newspaper format, unlike the magazine it is now.  They used to occasionally run articles about different cities and the society there.  Lo and behold, just as we were considering a move to this area, there was an article, complete with photos, on Sarasota.  Paulette and her first husband, Granville Crabtree, were photographed all dressed up and sitting by their pool.  Of course, when I knew we were moving here, I memorized all the people and information in the article.  That's how I recognized Paulette when she came into Jacobson's and I waited on her.

We moved down here when I was offered a position with Jacobson's in Southbay.  Shortly after I started, I was the manager of the Intimate Apparel department and Paulette came in.  That was the period when a lot of sleepwear looked like white vintage dresses.  Paulette was looking for a Victorian-looking gown because she was hosting a croquet party on the lawn of her home and that was to be her costume, complete with a big hat and parasol.  (I know you can totally see it now!)  I was so excited to help her because I thought she was glamorous beyond words.  When she then turned out to be so nice, too, well, that was just frosting on the cake!  That's when I decided she would be my role model. 

Following her through local society photos, I remember one photo in particular of her as she was exiting her car to attend the New College Library Association's (NCLA) Mistletoe Ball.  Again, she looked so sparkling and pretty.  She was everything I wanted to be.

Joining the Junior League a few years after moving here, I got the opportunity to really get to know Paulette.  When I became president, I depended on the advice of many of the past presidents, and Paulette was one of them (She also chaired the League's first Holiday Tour of Homes).  I can't tell you how many notes I received from her, telling me how proud she was of me.  They meant the world to me.  Last year when I knew her time was limited, I wrote her a letter telling her how much she had meant to me and how much she had influenced my life.  I received the most beautiful letter in return from her.  I treasure it still today.

After your year as president of the Junior League, you are asked to become involved in many charitable organizations.  I selected several that had a lot of Junior League people involved and one was NCLA.  Paulette was very involved at the time, having chaired Mistletoe Ball and she served as board president.  During the time she was president, she created the Pique-nique sur la Baie luncheon, which is still one of the stars of the social season, as the "hat" luncheon.  She inspired me to also be Mistletoe Ball chair, Pique-nique chair, and board president of NCLA.  During that time, she was always there when I needed her.  I chaired the 20th Pique-nique and she hosted the Past Chair Luncheon for me at her lovely home.  She was always doing that sort of thing for others.  I remember she also hosted the Junior League Past Presidents' Luncheon, just weeks after she found out she had cancer and that it was terminal.

My last visit with her was at her home in February.  I had asked if I could interview her about what society was like in Sarasota in the 60s.  I had seen a photo of her at the Field Club during that time in the SCENE Magazine archives and I wanted to get her take on it all.  When I arrived at her home at the appointed time, she had her bulging scrapbooks all laid out on the coffee table.  I hadn't realized at the time I asked to interview her, that most of the 1960s she was spending a lot of time in Tallahassee.  So, out the window went my original interview plans and I just let her tell me all about her life in the 60s in Tallahassee.

During the 60s and 70s Granville was in the Florida House of Representatives and Paulette was so much more than just "the wife of".  Paulette being Paulette, she was a also active in politics.  She showed me all her scrapbooks of her extensive work as a Republican committee woman and as a delegate to the Republican National Convention.  President Nixon appointed her chairman of the White House Conference of Children and Youth for Sarasota County.  She also showed me a cookbook she had created with other wives of Florida Representatives.  All of this came quite naturally to her, as she had graduated from George Washington University majoring in International Economics and Foreign Affairs and did graduate work at Harvard.  She also taught for 10 years at St. Martha's and Incarnation schools.

Paulette was very proudly a life-long Sarasotan and was born here on April 8, 1937.  She was crowned Miss Sarasota and Miss Legs of the South - a perfect combination of brains and beauty!  She was always dressed beautifully with a flair.  She was co-owner of the old Sashay Around on St. Armands Key and in Cashiers, NC, as well as as owner of Souleiado in Chagrin Falls, OH, featuring products from her beloved France.

I took this photo of Paulette at her home on Feb. 20.  Even after bravely battling cancer for almost two years, she still look so beautiful.

In addition to the organizations I have already mentioned, she was involved in a multitude of charities as a board member and event chair, including most recently, her work with the Salvation Army.  She was on their Advisory Board for 25 years, serving as president in 2010-11.  During that time, she founded the Glitz at the Ritz luncheon, which is a bright spot on the social calendar today. 

From my blog posting of the Salvation Army's Glitz at the Ritz luncheon on March 29 - Paulette with her beloved husband, Don, and cherished daughter, Michelle Crabtree.

Other boards she served on were the Asolo Theater Festival, the Council of Epilepsy, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota County Historical Commission, WEDU, and Pan American Bank.  Major social events she chaired were the Governor's Ball at the Ringling Museum and the Sarasota Opera Opening Night Gala.  She was also a member of the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Century Club, the Founders Garden Club and the Field Club, as well as United Way County Chairman and founder of the Keel Club.

Awards she received were the Junior League Sustainer of the Year and Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer by the Association of Fund Raising Professionals.

Paulette married her husband Don Blair, shortly after her diagnosis two years ago.  She told a friend that she had met the love of her life and now she had everything but time. 

Paulette is survived by Don, and her children, Michelle Crabtree (Larry Davenport) and John Crabtree (Erin Crabtree), all who have been devoted to her.  She was grandmother to Chadwick Mahle and Faith and John Crabtree and step-mother to Cindy Blair Woodling (Dale Woodling) and Scott Blair (Marie Christine).   

Mass will be held for Paulette at Incarnation Catholic Church, 2901 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota.  Date and time to follow.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be be made to the Salvation Army of Sarasota, PO Box 2792, Sarasota, FL 34230.

Dearest Paulette, your friends and family will miss you more than you know.  I am so glad I had the opportunity to tell you what you have met to my life and how you inspired me to be the woman I am today.

The beautiful, vivacious, smart, kind, and loving Paulette, as we all will remember her.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for posting this blog on such a wonderful woman. She'll be missed by many !