A most passionate patron of the Arts in Carthage, Robert Pruit Denning, an ebullient 87, took his leave of this good earth on July 9, 2021. His legacy will be lasting. His joie de vivre, optimism, ever ready smile and the sight of him strolling around the square or to the Post Office in his full length white faux fur coat will be greatly missed!
Robert’s obituary tells us he was born October 4, 1933, in Hollywood, California, the son of Samuel Pruit Denning and Mabel Whitney Denning. He graduated from North Hollywood High School in 1949 and attended UCLA in the Class of 1952. During his high school and college years he was always seen at Schwabs, mingling with Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart and Judy Garland.
When he was 24, following the death of his birth mother, Robert dearly wished to be with his father Sam “Denny” Denning and stepmother Elona “Lee” Denning in Chicago. When they had a daughter, Diane, in 1944, he visited every year and spent the summer months at Crystal Lake, Minnesota, at the “Cottage” with Lee’s family.
While in the Navy Robert was known as “the singing pilot”—a brave and handsome carrier aviator. After his military service, Robert, the son of a Rockette, worked as an actor, singer, dancer, insurance manager, nightclub owner, nationally syndicated epicurean columnist, social cruise ship director and hotel and restaurant manager, among other engagements.
In Santa Cruz, 1958-61, Robert owned the Coffee Cabaret in Capitola By the Sea. He then met his lifelong partner William (Billy) Strayer. They were together for nearly 50 years. Between 1962 and 1977, Robert worked in the corporate world for Occidental Life Insurance in Los Angeles, while also participating in local and regional theater. From 1978 to 1992, he enjoyed culinary pursuits, writing and travel. He opened Robert Denning’s Epicurean Shop in Laguna Beach, California, and worked as the Social Director of the Royal Cruise Lines gathering friends from around the globe. From 1992 to 2007, Robert operated a number of hotels and restaurants in Palm Springs, California.
Following the death of his partner Billy, Robert briefly resided with Billy’s family, in Lake Elsinore, California, prior to moving to Carthage, Missouri, his favorite place of all. He was welcomed in Carthage and embraced by all his friends in the Grace Episcopal Church familywhere he was a member of the choir and the Vestry and performed in numerous original plays.
Robert was an especially gifted conversationalist, public speaker and storyteller, weaving tales of his exciting, memorable life and of his grandparents Samuel Pruit Denning and Sarah Henson Denning of Roswell, New Mexico, and of his colorful siblings.
Robert’s survivors include his sister, Diane Miller, of Wallkill, New York; and cousins, Robert Fredrick Bowes, of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Brian Dean Bowes of Skokie, Illinois, and Hallie Walker and Hallie Elizabeth Baran of Sherman Oaks, California.
Comments made by a friend upon the announcement of Robert’s death offer a poignant tribute to this true original, a man so very many knew and loved: Robert “personified style, courtesy and civility. He was what is increasingly rare these days, a renaissance man in every way—well-spoken and always amusing—a humble and kind friend.”
To a much loved bon vivant and most passionate patron, Robert Pruit Denning, we bid “Fare thee well!”