The Civic Light Opera Guild's annual Christmas party wasn't a party until Constance Rockwell showed up in her famous Christmas tree hat.
Mrs. Rockwell founded the group 50 years ago with 26 women who met at her home. Their first fund-raising event, a dinner dance at the Pittsburgh Field Club, became the guild's annual Pink Frolic Ball, now one of the highlights of Pittsburgh's social season.
Mrs. Rockwell, wife of the late Pittsburgh industrialist Willard F. Rockwell Jr., had a stroke Nov. 19 and died Wednesday at Forbes Hospice. She was 90.
"From its very first days, Connie Rockwell was not only the founder, but also the heart of the CLO Guild," said CLO executive producer Van Kaplan. "Her energy and enthusiasm were legendary, and her dedication to the Pittsburgh CLO will continue to be an inspiration."
The guild's annual Christmas party had been scheduled for Monday.
"We canceled because of Connie's illness," said Dolores Bold, a longtime friend of Mrs. Rockwell and a charter member of the guild.
Mrs. Bold was one of the women invited to help establish the guild after Mrs. Rockwell decided to take on the challenge of pulling it together. Irwin D. Wolf, president of the Civic Light Opera Association and vice president of Kaufmann's department store, had asked her to do so. Initially, Mrs. Rockwell was not sure she was up to the task.
Mr. Wolf and CLO Association managing director William Wymetal convinced her she was the civic-minded woman they needed.
Eight months after the initial meeting of 26 women, the guild had grown to 100 members. The following year, it sponsored a benefit ball to raise money. Invitations were sent on pink paper, and pink remains the signature color of the guild. Mrs. Rockwell served as its president from 1955 to 1963 and chaired the Pink Frolic Ball in 1964, 1980 and 1992.
In May, a record crowd of 560 guests turned out when Mrs. Rockwell was honored at the 50th anniversary ball.
Mrs. Rockwell was born Constance Templeton in Manila, Philippines. She graduated from high school in San Francisco, attended business school in Oakland, Calif., and landed a secretarial job in NBC's audience fan mail department.
Mrs. Rockwell met her future husband, Willard, at a dinner party while he was in San Francisco on business. After he returned to the East Coast, the couple corresponded by mail for two years. When instead of an engagement ring, Mrs. Rockwell received a postcard from Mr. Rockwell stating that he was going to vacation in Havana, she decided to return to Manila.
There, she married and had a daughter. She later divorced her first husband and returned to the United States. She and Mr. Rockwell became reacquainted and were married July 16, 1941.
The two settled into a house in Edgewood next to Mr. Rockwell's parents, Col. Willard and Clara Rockwell.
Mrs. Rockwell spent the next 14 years raising her five children, traveling with her husband and caring for their various homes, in Pittsburgh, Cat Cay in the Bahamas, and Nemacolin in Farmington, Fayette County.
In addition to her work for the CLO and other charitable causes and organizations, Mrs. Rockwell had her own interior design firm called Creative Design International, which had offices in Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale.
Mrs. Rockwell is survived by three sons, Willard F. Rockwell III of Uptown, S. Kent Rockwell of Fox Chapel and Russell A. Rockwell of Davidson, N.C.; a daughter, Patricia Lynne Boorn of West Palm Beach, Fla.; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at First Presbyterian Church, Sixth Avenue, Downtown.
Monica Haynes can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1660.