MERRITT ISLAND - Roger Warren Dobson, of Merritt Island, a retired business and civic leader in Brevard County, passed away peacefully on January 15, 2020. He was 87.
Roger was predeceased by his mother, Helen Osteen Chandler, his stepfather George Wilkerson (“Winks”) Chandler, and his biological father, Cecil Warren Dobson.
A loving husband of 57 years, Roger is survived by his wife, Marilyn, their daughters Kathryn Dobson (spouse, Deborah Shelton) of Silver Spring, MD, and Caroline Dobson Raleigh (husband, James Raleigh) of Merritt Island, FL; granddaughters Chandler Kelley and Abigail Raleigh; sister, Beverly (Dobson) Ford (husband, Dr. Albert Ford [deceased]) of Gainesville, FL; brother-in-law Greg Smith (wife, Ellen) of Eugene, OR; sister-in-law Julie Smith (husband, James Smith [deceased]) of Oswego, NY; niece and nephews Susan Ford Ori, Kelly Ford, and Simon Smith; and two half-sisters with whom he was recently united, Delores (Dee) Worley and Margee Commeau, both of Florida.
Roger grew up fishing and hunting on Cape Canaveral and on his grandparents’ homestead land on Merritt Island during the Great Depression. He attended the one-room Canaveral schoolhouse before he and his sister, Beverly, made the trek across the river to Cocoa Elementary. At Cocoa High School, he lettered in football and basketball.
Roger earned his bachelor’s degree at Stetson University as a member of ROTC, served as an artillery specialist in the U.S. Army, then applied his G.I. Bill funds toward a graduate degree in accounting and finance at the University of Colorado. In 1957, before heading west, Roger helped his mother and stepfather transform their land into the “Celestial Trailer Park,” for personnel relocating to NASA as part of America’s Space Race. It was the first of many ways his strategic planning would shape the landscape of central Brevard.
After completing his master’s degree, the freshly minted CPA joined accounting giant Price Waterhouse in New York City. During a stint in Rochester for the firm’s Eastman Kodak audit, he met the love of his life and wife of 57 years, Marilyn Smith, a teacher and accomplished pianist who at first refused to believe Roger had grown up in the recently renamed Cape Kennedy, an area she told him was home only to rockets.
Married in New York in 1962, the couple gradually made their way south, first with Price Waterhouse in Atlanta and Tampa, and later to Roger’s hometown, where he began a solo accounting firm. During that time, he helped his wife build a private school, Children’s World, which she ran until resigning to raise their daughters, Katy and Caroline. Slowly, Roger’s fledgling accounting firm developed into Dobson, Jones, Bjerning & Hoyman. It was the county’s largest accounting firm when partner Chas Hoyman assumed its helm as Hoyman Dobson.
An active leader in the Cocoa Beach Area Chamber of Commerce from the late 1960s, Roger was early on identified by Florida’s governors for key roles. Gov. Reubin Askew named him to the Cape Canaveral Hospital Board of Trustees, an appointment renewed by Gov. Bob Graham, who also named him trustee of Brevard Community College, a capacity in which Roger served from 1978 until 1986.
His entrepreneurial spirit and vision for a vibrant Brevard led him to branch out into new businesses. In 1975, Roger Dobson and Eugene Bjerning teamed with businesswoman Fran Risley in what became a decades-long partnership in the hotel business. From their purchase of the Econo Lodge near the Cocoa Beach Pier, they would later transform the Polaris Motel into a Best Western with a new eight-story ocean front tower, then would add a Perkins Restaurant and convert local haunt The Mousetrap into Durango Steakhouse.
Dobson and Bjerning went on to partner with Bjornar Hermansen to build the Cocoa Beach Hampton Inn and Marriott Courtyard. With an eye on Port Canaveral’s burgeoning cruise business, the trio then built the Cape Canaveral Residence Inn at a location that was practically Roger’s childhood backyard. In 2007, when the Founders Forum named him Entrepreneur of the Year, his hotel businesses had grown to 788 rooms in the beach areas of central Brevard and employed 250 county residents.
Roger’s commitment to the betterment of his beloved Brevard earned the Cocoa Beach Chamber of Commerce distinguished service award, the Rodney S. Ketcham Leadership Icon Award, and the Tourism Development Council’s Solomon “Portrait of Excellence.” He was inducted to the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame and to the Brevard Community College Hall of Fame. He also served on Patrick AFB’s Civilian-Military Council and, with his wife, on the board of PREVENT, an organization devoted to addiction prevention.
Roger campaigned for many political candidates, basing his support not on party alone but on a candidate’s vision of community and smart growth to benefit all. As County Commissioner (1986-1990), he worked to protect the St. Johns River, widen 520 and Courtenay Parkway, remove tolls on county roads, and make county buildings accessible to more residents by moving them to Viera.
In his occasional free time, Roger enjoyed watching sports, hunting duck and turkey, taking in Indian River sunsets with his wife, and reading every single column inch of the newspaper.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, February 8, 2020, at Advent Lutheran Church, 7550 North Wickham Road,Melbourne/Suntree, where Roger was a long-time member and faithful servant.
Friends are also invited to call at Beckman-Williamson Funeral Home, 101 North Brevard Avenue, Cocoa Beach, on Friday, February 7th from 5 to 7 p.m. Condolences can also be shared online at https://www.beckmanwilliamson.com/
Memorial donations may be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation (www.michaeljfox.org); the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (www.curealz.org); or the Helen Osteen Chandler Endowed Nursing Scholarship, begun by Roger’s mother, at Eastern Florida State (www.efscfoundation.org).
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