Frances Hodges Robertson, 88, passed away September 18 at her apartment in Claridge Court after a recent diagnosis of lymphoma. Born on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1926, she was the cherished only child of Gertrude Pendleton Hodges and Frank Hodges, Jr of Olathe.
She grew up in Olathe when it was a sleepy town of 4,000, and had an idyllic childhood typical of small town America in the 1930s and 40s. She roamed far and wide with her pals, but knew to stay out of trouble because her folks would have heard about it before she even got home! She attended movie matinees for a nickel, sledded on snow-covered streets on winter evenings, and made telephone calls by dialing “central”. As a little girl she wore beautiful puffed -sleeve dresses hand smocked by her mother, and as teenager she donned saddle shoes and a letter sweater as a cheerleader at Olathe High School. Although she covered a lot of territory on foot and her bicycle when she was a youngster, she got a driver’s license at the young age of 15. She was a newly-minted driver on an outing to the Country Club Plaza when she heard the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the car radio.
When she was in third grade she began taking harp lessons, which required “going into the city” weekly. As she became an accomplished harpist, she was often asked to play at teas, church services or other social gatherings. Later, as she was leading the nomadic life of a Naval officer’s wife, the harp travelled in its large wooden crate on innumerable moves to new duty stations. Guests in her home were awestruck at the sight of the beautiful instrument in her living room. As soon as word of her talent got around, she was asked to share her music with the new community.
She learned to play tennis on the court in her parents’ backyard, and enjoyed the game well into her 70s. A real go-getter, she liked to have her days full! She might lace up her tennis shoes in the morning for an active game on the court, give a dinner party in her home that evening, and in between study a French lesson for her class at the Causerie Francaise. Her daughters were constantly amazed at her efficiency and energy, and sometimes had to double time to keep up with her brisk walking pace, even as an octogenarian.
She was a Renaissance woman. One of her favorite Christmas gifts were subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal and Barrons, and she read both publications from cover to cover. She loved chatting with her stock broker about the latest developments in the financial world. Yet she also loved tending her flower gardens, baking cookies with her granddaughters and taking her grandsons fishing (along with their beloved grandfather).
On a warm summer evening in 1942 she met Gordon Hubbard Robertson, a handsome young Naval Air Cadet stationed at the Olathe Naval Air Station. After he returned from combat in the Pacific they were married on October 21, 1945. Their wedding had already been postponed once because the groom was delayed in getting home from the South Pacific. This time he made it to Union Station with five days to spare before the big day.
He served an illustrious 27-year career in the Navy, including posts as Commanding Officer of the aircraft Hornet during the Vietnam War and service on the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. Throughout their 63-year marriage Frances and Gordon were a great team.
Frances was well-suited to the life of a Naval officer’s wife, always welcoming the adventures presented by frequent moves and easily accepting the challenges and extra responsibilities thrust on her. Often Gordon was deployed when he got orders for a new assignment, so it was up to Frances to make all the arrangements for the move, and find a new house at the destination. This, and lots of other things, she managed with extraordinary efficiency.
And moving every 2 years meant constantly having to fit “old” things into a “new” house. As soon as the boxes were unpacked, she would get out her 1940s- era Singer sewing machine to make slip covers to match a new décor or fashion draperies or curtains for the new abode. She also sewed some beautifully-tailored outfits, but when people would comment on her intricate and professional-looking window treatments, she would modestly declare, “It’s easier to fit a window than a person.”
She was very adventuresome. For multiple years Gordon was deployed on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea or the South China Sea. One year Frances and three other Navy wives decided to “follow the ship”, so her daughters spent a fun five months with her parents in Olathe while she went on this odyssey. This was in the late 1950s when Europe was still very much in a post-war state, few people spoke English and communications were not what they are today. The first trip went so well that the next year she decided to do it again – this time taking their daughters. To make the trip as economical as possible, Frances and the girls crossed the Atlantic on a Dutch coal freighter. That novel mode of transportation set the stage for an adventuresome six months in Europe travelling on a shoe-string budget.
Of all the places the Robertsons lived, one of her favorites was Paris, where Gordon was stationed at NATO headquarters. Frances was as glamorous as the city she loved. One photo in the family album is of Frances and Gordon (resplendent in his dress uniform) ascending the steps at Versailles Palace to attend a ball. After living abroad, their home was filled with antiques purchased in France, and her recipe box overflowed with recipes collected on her travels. Her French onion soup recipe was given to her by a restaurant owner in Les Hallles, and her paella recipe was acquired on the shores of Spain. These have been lovingly passed down.
After Gordon retired from the Navy in 1969 the couple settled in Mission Hills. Though they were finally able to put down roots – and absolutely loved living here – they never lost the lust for travel. An up-to-date passport was always at hand, and they made it to every continent and most of the states. In 1979 they were among the early tourists to China after it’s re-opening, and later they took an extended around-the-world voyage. One of their greatest pleasures was taking their entire family, including their grandchildren, on more than 10 trips to Europe.
A life-long learner, and always open to a challenge, Frances had a love/hate relationship with the computer. As the keeper of the family archives, she wrote many letters and loved the word processing and email components, but was baffled by the intricacies of the machine’s workings (or sometimes, not workings). It frustrated her that she had to call on her grandsons or son-in-law for help, but they always came running eagerly.
To her 5 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren she was lovingly known as Meme. They looked forward to holidays in her warm home, especially Christmas Eve. Whether to family or friends, her hospitality and graciousness were legendary.
Her analytical mind was well suited to bridge, a game she enjoyed playing several times a week, and with great mastery. A game at which she admittedly felt more frustration was golf! Even so, she and Gordon loved their golf foursomes at Mission Hills Country Club, and Frances loved her days on the links with the ladies. She was quite proud of her hole- in- one in 1987.
She attended the University of Kansas where she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. She was a member of Chapter GP of the PEO Sisterhood, the Society of Fellows at the Nelson Gallery, the American Harp Society, Westport Chapter of the DAR, the Village Presbyterian Church, and Mission Hills Country Club. For the past nine years she lived in a beautiful apartment at Claridge Court and was the immediate past president of the Resident Council.
She was preceded in death by her husband on June 4, 2008 and her son-in-law, Forrest Lowell Langdon on April 16, 1992. She is survived by her daughters Sally Skillen (Robert) of Mt. Lebanon, PA and Carolyn Langdon of Prairie Village. She also is survived by 5 grandchildren: Michelle Balfe (Michael) of Mt. Lebanon, Gail Groninger (John) of Upper St. Clair, PA, Brian Langdon (Heather) of Olathe, Scott Langdon of Overland Park and Andrew Langdon (fiancée Bailey Martin). Also surviving are 6 great grandchildren: Fiona and Catherine Balfe, Sara and Gordon Groninger, and Lily and Genevieve Langdon.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at Village Presbyterian Church. Due to construction at the church, the service will be in Friendship Hall at the south end of the building.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the Kansas City Symphony, the church or the charity of the donor’s choice.
The family would like to thank the staffs of Health at Home at Claridge Court and Continua Hospice for their compassionate, thoughtful and efficient care, as well as Dr. Lynne Kallenbach and her outstanding team.