Potomac Conservationist Robert Lavell Dies at 83

Potomac Conservationist Robert Lavell Dies at 83

Robert J. Lavell remained low-key about his profession, yet enthusiastic and steadfast in his support of conservation causes.

Lavell, a longtime Potomac resident, died of congestive heart failure at the age of 83 on June 2. He is survived by his wife, Mary Lavell.

“It’s been a wonderful life,” Mary Lavell said. “He was enthusiastic about things, and he brought enthusiasm out of others.”

“He was very good at talking to people in [a way] that made kids comfortable and adults comfortable,” said Diana Conway, a member of West Montgomery County Citizens Association.

“He was a staunch conservationist,” said Ginny Barnes, also of West Montgomery. “He was the perfect spokesman. … There wasn’t any question of him compromising.”

During Lavell’s funeral at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church on June 6, one of his nephews who spoke said he never heard Lavell talk about his job. “It turns out he was an economist. Who knew?” Conway said.

INSTEAD, LAVELL WAS known in the area for his devotion to the Audubon Naturalist Society, the Potomac Conservancy, and the West Montgomery County Citizens Association. He served on the board of all three organizations, and was an interim president at Audubon for one year.

Lavell taught classes at the Audubon Society, but when he served on an organization board, his manner was quietly effective. “He wasn’t one of those people who would talk and talk at meetings,” said Conway.

“He never talked too much [but] he knew just what the issue was. I loved that about him,” Barnes said.

Barnes and Lavell joined each year to monitor Watts Branch, an annual tradition for Lavell until declining health forced him to stop several years ago.

LAVELL WAS PART of three landings in the South Pacific as a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. Born and raised in Cincinnati, he met Mary, a Texas native, in the Washington, D.C. area during wartime.

The Lavells moved to Potomac nearly 50 years ago, and built their own home on Logan Drive, where they still resided at the time of his death.

At the Conways’ annual Christmas party, Diana Conway’s husband William made a signature hot Colonial-style rum punch. “You could always find Bob by the punch bowl,” Diana Conway said.

“He was funny — and profane sometimes,” Mary Lavell said.

But Lavell also had a gift for sharing his enthusiasm for the outdoors with people of all ages, said Conway and Barnes. “I have three kids who thought that he was great,” said Conway, whose children would go over to see Lavell’s pond.

Relatives of all ages at Lavell’s funeral described him as everybody’s favorite uncle, Barnes said.

Lavell’s family has asked that contributions in his name be made to the Audubon Naturalist Society, 8940 Jones Mill Road, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.