Marilyn Smith Dobson, 86, of Merritt Island, passed away on December 12th, 2021, with family at her bedside, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Marilyn was a pioneer in early childhood education in 1960s era Brevard County, founding a standalone kindergarten, Children’s World, because the public schools had not yet begun to offer educational enrichment prior to first grade. Later, she helped to found PREVENT! of Brevard, a substance-abuse prevention nonprofit whose programming emphasized self-worth and decision-making skills for children and their families. PREVENT!’s crowning achievement is Sally’s House, a treatment center that allows women to live in residence without leaving their children at home.
Born in Oswego, New York, Marilyn was the oldest of three children. She excelled in piano and flute and took the stage in so many high-school productions that her peers thought she should move to the City and become a Rockette. Instead, she attended Oswego State University to earn a degree in early childhood education. Her professors found her talents as musician so impressive that they pressed her to transfer to SUNY Potsdam’s esteemed Crane School of Music. After earning her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Crane, Marilyn began a career that combined her two passions—music and teaching children—by accepting a position as a music teacher in New York State’s public school system. Students in Miss Smith’s classroom sang, danced, and played music (loudly) on instruments like the xylophone, cymbals, and drums. If Marilyn thought an instrument would allow her to bring more delight into children’s lives, she learned to play it. If she discovered new music that she thought would engage children, she taught it.
She met Roger Dobson, the love of her life, when he was working in New York City, where they became fans of the Yankees and the theater. When Roger’s accounting firm required the now newlyweds to relocate to Atlanta and then to Tampa, Marilyn found ways to plug in to local school systems. When they moved to Cape Canaveral, Roger’s hometown, she saw a need for something new: a kindergarten with an innovative curriculum featuring arts, music, reading, and creative play. Thus was born Children’s World.
When children of her own arrived, and Roger accepted a role as President of the Space Coast Chamber of Commerce, Marilyn turned her attentions to home and to supporting her husband’s career. She would continue her support as Roger built his CPA firm, Dobson, Jones, Bjerning & Hoyman (later, Hoyman & Dobson). A reluctant campaigner but skilled fundraiser, she also supported Roger when he sought public office on the Brevard County Commission. However, when their friends encouraged him to run for higher offices, she informed him that he could move to Tallahassee or Washington, DC, but he would be moving alone. She would stand by his side, but she would do it from her beloved vista along the Indian River. That was all he needed to hear; he chose not to seek higher office. Roger may have been the well-known public face, but Marilyn was the soul, and the quiet strength, of the Dobson family.
Faith and music were the heart and the engine that drove Marilyn’s activities. She taught Sunday school and summer vacation Bible school in Cocoa Beach and brought contemporary music to worship services at her beloved Advent Lutheran Church in then-new Suntree. She would later serve on call committees at Advent Lutheran and help to bring a complete pipe organ to the church. For Marilyn, music and worship were intertwined.
Marilyn was also an ardent fan of the Cocoa Village Playhouse, where she continued as a frequent patron of her most favored of arts, the Broadway musical. She could sight read whatever music you put in front of her at the piano, and, as a mom, created an at-home version of Name that Tune that she played with her husband and daughters.
She was an unfailingly supportive mother to daughters Katy and Caroline. She encouraged creativity and allowed them to tramp around barefoot. They sometimes even wore cutoffs to church. Though herself an elegant fashion-plate with never a hair out of place, she believed that God didn’t care what people wore.
Marilyn adored being a grandmother. It was the source of great joy and near constant laughter.
She loved her home on the Indian River, where she and Roger enjoyed watching many a sunset. At times, she professed herself reluctant to travel because she found the Lotus Homestead so beautiful.
Marilyn was predeceased by her husband, Roger W. Dobson, her mother Ruth Smith, her father James Smith, and her brother James Smith.
Marilyn is survived by her 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; brother Greg Smith (wife, Ellen Smith) of Eugene, OR; sister-in-law Julie Smith (husband, James Smith [deceased]) of Oswego, NY; sister-in-law Beverly Ford (husband, Dr. Albert Ford [deceased]) of Gainesville, FL; and niece and nephews Susan Ford Ori, Kelly Ford, and Simon Smith.
A memorial service for family is planned for Monday, December 20th.
Those wishing to honor Marilyn Dobson’s memory may make a charitable donation to one of Marilyn’s favorite causes: Advent Lutheran Church, Circles of Care (Sally’s House), and the Cocoa Village Playhouse.
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