By Robert C. Jones Jr.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 29, 2015) – When Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote arrived at the University of Miami in 1981 with her husband, the school’s newly appointed president, Edward “Tad” Foote II, she knew instantly that something needed to be done to beautify the school’s Coral Gables campus.
Back then, Memorial Drive was what UM Board of Trustees member Charles E. “Chuck” Cobb described as a “sea of asphalt,” an expansive area for faculty parking that Bosey Foote wanted to replace with green space. But doing so wouldn’t be easy. Her husband knew that eliminating those parking spaces would quite probably upset some of the faculty. Yet Mrs. Foote persisted, and the asphalt eventually met its end, giving way to the lush plant life that was part of a campus beautification program spearheaded by the University’s first lady.
Last Friday, with the Coral Gables campus in full bloom, family, friends, and members of the University community paid tribute to the woman who made it her mission to turn the school’s grounds into a “campus in a tropical garden.”
“She wasn’t a horticulturalist, but she had an innate ability to know what worked and looked right,” Thaddeus Foote said at the Celebration of Life for his mother, who died of complications from cancer on May 5 at the age of 76. “Thirty-five years later, this campus sings with beauty.”
More than 150 people, including President Emeritus Foote, attended the memorial service, gathering under a tent on what is now fittingly called the Foote University Green to listen to and share stories about the Arkansas-born mother, grandmother, and wife who always believed in making spaces beautiful.
Noting that she volunteered at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Thaddeus Foote, who took a teaching job at the Coral Gables-based garden, described his mother as “elegant, even while sweating with pruning shears on the side of Old Cutler Road. I can’t tell you how grateful a son I am,” he said, holding back tears. He held up a mango, noting that it was one of his mother’s favorite fruits, and he encouraged everyone to take with them one of the Captiva Island seashells from her collection, which was displayed on a table at the memorial service.
Another son, William Foote, said his mother was “altruistic” and “cared deeply about making the world a better place.” She supported efforts such the Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community, which her husband founded in 1988, and long ago, she became a volunteer for the Frontier Nursing Service, helping to deliver health care to residents in rural communities in the Appalachian Mountains.
It should have come as no surprise that she wanted to help others, William Foote noted. Born Roberta Waugh Fulbright, she was the daughter of the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, the prominent American statesman who initiated the international exchange program for scholars known as the Fulbright scholarship.
Music performed by the two sons and other Foote family members moved many of those in attendance, including Lynden B. Miller, who first met Bosey Foote 67 years ago when the two girls were in the fifth grade in Washington, D.C. Miller called her longtime friend “the sister of my heart.”
“We shared everything,” even the belief in using plants to improve public spaces, said Miller. “We talked on the telephone for hours…We were in each others weddings…We finished each others sentences,” she recalled. In the early 1970s, when Bosey Foote moved to St. Louis, where her husband became dean of the law school at Washington University, the two friends didn’t see much of each other. “But there was always the telephone,” said Miller. “I only wish there was a phone I could call her on now.”