OCEAN CITY- Ocean City and the entire resort community this week is mourning the passing of an icon, Rose Brous, who died on Tuesday ironically just one day before she was scheduled to be honored as the Worcester County Commission for Women’s Women of the Year for 2015.
Brous passed away on Tuesday at Atlantic General Hospital at the age of 77. In the days since, words like tough, gracious, kind, and compassionate have been heard around the community by those fondly remembering the Ocean City icon, one of the great women pioneers in a long and storied list of those who helped build the resort as a family vacation destination.
From the beginning, women have been the backbone of the hospitality industry in Ocean City, while men worked the fish camps and built the fledgling resort, it was the women who led the birth of the town as a the vacation destination it has become today. In fact, prior to incorporation as the town of Ocean City in the 1870s, it was known as “The Ladies’ Resort to the Ocean” as those early pioneers built and ran the boarding houses and hotels that drew visitors to the seaside retreat.
Some of those early pioneers included Rosalie Tilghman Shreve, Josephine Harrison Hastings, Ethel Griffin Kelley, Ella Dennis and the list goes on and on. Other women pioneers with names such as Taylor, Carter, Dashiell, Showell, Rounds, Laws, Lankford, Moore, Newtown, Quillen and others built and ran those early hotels. More recently, Thelma Connor, whose Dunes Manor is undergoing a rebranding and is featured in this week’s Dispatch, can be added to the list. Rose Brous, whose family has owned and operated the Flamingo Motel since 1963, certainly belongs in that company.
Rose and her husband George opened the Flamingo Motel on the Boardwalk in 1963. George passed away in 1978, leaving Rose to run the iconic motel with the help of her two young sons. The Flamingo is one of those great old lodging establishments along the famous “Motel Row” on the Boardwalk, many of which are being replaced with shiny new chain hotels. Just this week, another major chain hotel was approved by the Planning Commission in the downtown area. Change is inevitable, and in many cases good, but the older motels and hotels including the Flamingo will always hold a place in the hearts and memories of the countless visitors to Ocean City over the decades. Brous and her family-owned Flamingo are certainly part of that legacy.
Brous’ passing on Tuesday came just one day before she was scheduled to be honored as Woman of the Year for 2015 by the Worcester County Commission for Women. In true Ocean City fashion, the show had to go on and the commission members scrambled to alter the program to honor Brous posthumously. Worcester County Register of Wills and Commission member Charlotte Cathell altered her planned introduction for Brous, and Commission member Sharyn O’Hare read Brous’ planned speech before a packed house at the luncheon. After O’Hare read the speech, the large crowd, including family members, rose to their feet for a standing ovation for their beloved Brous, also known to many as Rowboat.
In her planned speech, read by O’Hare at the luncheon, Brous referenced women’s role in the history of the resort and its hospitality industry.
“Briefly, I’d like to share my thoughts of living in Ocean City with you,” she wrote. “Ocean City is a special place. This town was built on the backs of women. It was a unique town where the women actually ran the businesses and started the hospitality running the boarding houses and hotels. We have all worked together to make Ocean City and Worcester County what it is today. The business community was, and continues to be, supportive of those who developed Ocean City. It is probably the best place to be a woman in business.”
When her husband George passed away in 1978, Rose continued to run the hotel with her two young sons, Nick, 10, and Joel, 7. She said in her speech the two young boys liked to work the switchboard, run the front desk and handle other duties around the motel property. It was during that time she earned the beloved nickname “Rowboat” because the boys did not want to refer to her as “Mom” around the business.
“As they worked the front desk and throughout the property, a strategy was developed to avoid having the guests hear them call out ‘Mom’ and the nickname Rowboat was born,” Brous wrote in her speech. “Rowboat came from my initials R and B. I always loved that nickname.”
Later in the speech read by O’Hare on Wednesday, Brous referenced the traits that made those women pioneers in the resort hospitality business so successful.
“Now let me tell you about the women of Ocean City,” she said. “One word tells it all. Tough. Let me explain what I mean by the word tough. Starting in the early days, although the women were kind and generous, that did not take away from the ‘just deal with it’ attitude. No matter what happened, they were supportive of each other and they would do anything to help each other. I was certainly in good company, surrounded by such talented women.”
Brous was certainly accomplished in so many other ways in the resort beyond her contributions to the hospitality industry. In 2008, she was crowned Queen of the Mardis Gras in Ocean City after raising over $30,000 for Hurricane Katrina victims. She served on the boards of the Ethics Commission for Ocean City, Delmarva Women’s Club and Wor-Wic Community College. She taught Sunday school to junior and senior high school students at the Atlantic Methodist Church, assisted Atlantic General Hospital with its fundraising efforts and was an avid supporter of the Worcester County Commission for Women’s McGruffrey summer reading program and the list goes on and on.
Brous was also a past-president of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association. In 2007, she was named one of the association’s “Steel Magnolias.” Current OCHMRA President Susan Jones this week fondly recalled Brous.
“Proprietor of the Flamingo Motel, Rose has been a pillar of strength and guidance in the many lives she touched,” she said. “Named one of our ‘Steel Magnolias’ in 2007, Rose was truly a classy lady and will be deeply missed by our association.”
Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who represents Ocean City and Worcester County, also this week fondly recalled Brous and her contributions to the resort area.
“We in Ocean City and throughout our local area are mourning the passing of our kind friend, Rose Brous, a business matriarch who led by example in promoting Ocean City as a family vacation town,” she said. “As a former teacher who taught at an overseas military base, Rose brought her family values and patriotic sense when it came to stepping up to run the Flamingo Motel after the passing of her husband George Brous.”
Carozza, whose family has known Brous for decades, also referenced her personal interactions with the resort icon.
“For over 50 years, Rose was the Iron Lady with a heart of gold as she raised her sons and ran a family business,” she said. “Our family joins with so many others in honoring Rose’s memory. On a personal note, I will be forever grateful to Rose for being the first person to share my experiences on September 11 when she gently reminded me of the obligation to share with and serve our home community.”
Brous was preceded in death by her husband George in 1978. Surviving are her children Nick Brous of New York, N.Y., Joel Brous and his wife Christine of Ocean City, and grandchildren Dryden, Hattie, George and Henry. She leaves her beloved companion Coleman Bunting of Ocean City. Also surviving is her sister, Joan Wilson and Joan’s husband Ralph was well as numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, March 24, at 1 p.m., at the Atlantic United Methodist Church on 4th St. in Ocean City. Friends may call at the church from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. A donation in her memory may be made to: Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 1359 Broadway, Suite 1509, New York, N.Y. 10018, or the American Heart Association, Memorial Processing Center, 4217 Park Place Court, Glen Allen, VA 23060. Arrangements are in the care of the Burbage Funeral Home in Berlin.