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Robert Brooke Cadwallader

Obituary for Robert Brooke Cadwallader

January 1, 1930 - January 19, 2020
San Antonio, Texas | Age 90

Obituary

Robert Brooke Cadwallader, known as "Bobby" to his family, friends, and colleagues, died early in the morning at home on January 19, 2020. He was born in Fort Worth, Texas on January 1, 1930, the first of that city's births that decade, the son of Raymond Davis Cadwallader and Mary Eva Cadwallader (née Schmidt).

When he went to Southern Methodist University in 1949 on an athletic scholarship, he tried to enroll in the interior design department, but its chairwoman turned him away, declaring "no football player is going to be in my program." Bobby went straight to the Provost, who overruled her. He swiftly became one of the department's best students. Bobby soon met Laura Hillhouse, a student of fine arts. Their college romance led to marriage in 1953.

While a student, Bobby discovered a small, newly-opened Dallas design boutique with a red "K" on its door. He learned the "K" stood for Knoll, a furniture company established and developed by Hans Knoll and his wife Florence Schust Knoll. A chance encounter with Mrs. Knoll at an S.M.U. event set the trajectory of his life. Sensing Bobby's passion and determination, she told him to come work for Knoll upon graduation. With degrees in Interior Design and Business Law, Bobby first completed two years of Air Force service, and then returned to Dallas with his wife Laura to be a junior Knoll salesman. Impressed with his hard work, Mrs. Knoll asked Bobby to establish their new Los Angeles operation, which he did with great success, expanding it to encompass all of the western United States. Next, he directed Knoll's entire marketing operation from New York City. When Florence Knoll retired from the business in 1965, she "handed him the keys" and Bobby became President of Knoll International.

At the helm of the world's premier design furniture company, Bobby expanded the company globally and drew in a legion of new designers, particularly after he acquired the Italian company Gavina. Bobby worked with a roster of designers central to 20th-century design and architecture: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, Harry Bertoia, Warren Platner, Charles Pollock, Don Albinson, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, George Nelson, Richard Shultz, Cini Boeri, Tobia Scarpa, Hans Wegner, Niels Diffrient, Gae Aulenti, Douglas Ball, and Don Petit, to name only a few. He had an unerring nose for fresh talent, and helped launch and shape numerous careers by bestowing important commissions for furniture lines and showrooms. When you got a telephone call from Bobby with his booming voice, it meant something. Colleagues remember Bobby as unfailingly generous with his designers (especially when it came to credit and royalties), insistent on quality, whose Texan matter-of-fact style was tempered by warmth and loyalty. His work at Knoll culminated with a triumphant exhibition of the company's iconic designs at the Louvre in Paris.

After his work at Knoll concluded when the company changed corporate hands, Bobby went on to reinvent and expand two more companies: Hauserman and Sunar. At Sunar, Bobby's patronage did much to bring the world's attention to the young architect Michael Graves.

In 1998, Bobby and Laura left their restored 18th-century farmhouse and garden in Greenwich, Connecticut, and retired to San Antonio, Texas. Alongside Laura, a fine artist and expert horticulturist, Bobby also loved making things with his own hands, particularly Nantucket baskets. Most recently, Bobby helped organize a 2019 Harry Bertoia exhibition at the San Antonio Museum of Art. He celebrated his 90th birthday on New Year's Day surrounded by family and friends.

Bobby served on the boards and as an advisor to many important cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York); Designer's Saturday (New York); the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Charles Moore Foundation (Austin).

Mr. Cadwallader was preceded in death by two sons; Davis Scott Cadwallader (1961-1970) and Robert Brooke Cadwallader, Jr. (1954-2014). Mr. Cadwallader is survived by his wife Laura Cadwallader of 67 years, a son Hayden Cadwallader and daughter-in-law Audrey Cadwallader (Scarborough, Maine), grandchildren Lauren Cadwallader (Petaluma, California) and Tim Cadwallader (Denver, Colorado), and a daughter Leah Cadwallader (Gallatin, New York).

A memorial service will be held in Connecticut in the future.

Memorial contributions may be made to the San Antonio Museum of Art or the Charles Moore Foundation in Austin.

Services Pending. Please check back for further information.


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