Anna Lou Marvin spread the beauty of Lowcountry life

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comDecember 29, 2011 

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The Lowcountry lost one of its greatest ambassadors when Anna Lou Marvin passed away this month.

Even though the 91-year-old grand dame of Walterboro was being featured in a "Walterboro Rocks" billboard on Interstate 95 at the time of her death, her influence was much more subtle.

Like so many of us, she wasn't from around here.

She graduated from Wesleyan College in her native Georgia in 1941, but was auditing college courses in history, literature and religion in the last years of her life. She once said that if the reading pile on her night table fell over, it would knock her out. Actually, the books probably would have buried her 5-foot, 100-pound frame.

Anna Lou literally bounced around town, or entertained in her front-porch swing with a glass of ice tea mixed with whatever fruit juice she had left over. She beamed with an infectious inner joy.

Linda Salsberry wrote in Walterboro's Press and Standard: "Anna Lou Marvin, about to lead the Rice Festival parade as grand marshal in 2010, said then, 'If you don't like Walterboro, you probably won't like heaven.' "

On her first visit to see the Marvins of Walterboro, her suitor, Robert Marvin, took her on a dove shoot. For once, she may have been a fish out of water, but she threw herself into life in the Lowcountry, where Robert Marvin was raised an only child on a 15,000-acre plantation overseen by his father.

Robert was a landscape architect, a bold venture when he started in 1947. Anna Lou believed in him, and he believed in her. They drove a red Volkswagen Beetle to the 1962 International Design Conference in Aspen, and he subsequently wrote his design philosophy:

"The dominant reason for the existence of Robert E. Marvin Associates shall be to create and design an environment in which each individual can grow and develop to be a full human being as God intended him to be."

Robert Marvin was a soul mate of Sea Pines founder Charles E. Fraser. Together, they shaped Hilton Head Island's design for man and nature. Marvin's understated genius also can be seen in Beaufort in the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, the Orange Grove Plantation and the Trask garden at 820 Bay St.

People swept up with Anna Lou's spirit often said she led a perfect life. Her daughter, Alta Mae Marvin, knows it is so because Anna Lou chose to make it so. Anna Lou lost her only son. She struggled to save her sister's life for years. She lost her husband almost 12 years ago. She battled cancer, dementia and a broken hip.

Yet when she died Dec. 3, an editorial in her hometown newspaper said:

"If her late husband Robert Marvin, the world-renowned landscape architect, left his mark upon the physical landscape in this country and abroad, Anna Lou left hers just as indelibly upon the landscape of the hearts and minds of all who were fortunate enough to have met her."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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