President George Hagerty and Robert Durand at the opening to Robert and Virginia Durand Garden on August 17, 2018
LEESBURG — Beacon College officials dedicated the Virginia and Robert Durand Garden in a ceremony Friday at the new downtown pocket park.
The 12,000-square-foot park inhabits what was Palmetto Street in downtown Leesburg and is appointed with drake elms, Brodie cedars, Washington palms, Natchez crape myrtles, and various other flora.
For Robert Durand, the park stands as the latest memorial to the brown-haired woman with a green thumb and a passion for African violets who died in 2012 on his shoulder from cancer. They knew each other for 71 years and were married 59 years.
“I have this breath prayer I say, ‘reduce me to love.’ I say it when I have tension to calm me down.… As I was listening to Bob, I realized this park is here because of spirit. Virginia and Robert’s spirit — and they reduced it to love,” Beacon President George J. Hagerty said.
In 1948, when he was 17, Durand joined the U.S. Air Force. He served four years, including a stint in Okinawa prior to the Korean Conflict serving as an aircraft mechanic working on P-51 Mustangs and F-82 Twin Mustangs. During the conflict, “Okinawa proved to be especially important to the United States … as the main forward launching point for U.S. military forces,” according to Okinawa Peace Network of Los Angeles.
Once discharged, Durand beefed up his scholastic bona fides. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Lowell Technological Institute and two master’s degrees in engineering and business from Northeastern University and Babson College, all in Massachusetts.
In addition, Durand sought to find a life partner when he reconnected with Virginia Subick. The couple married in 1953.
For them, marriage was an adventure. For many years they owned a number of planes in which they buzzed the Hudson River and circled the Statue of Liberty. They travelled widely and loved Bermuda, Ireland, and Rome.
The Durands moved to Orlando in 1979 when Lockheed Martin hired Robert. The couple later moved to Leesburg in 2002. His Beacon College donation is the second donation the retired engineer this year has given a regional college.
This spring, Lake-Sumter State College christened the Virginia Durand Nursing Simulation Center. Virginia graduated from Brighton Nursing School and long served as a nurse at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. and in a string of local retirement homes.
Beacon College, a nonprofit liberal arts school, is America’s first college or university accredited to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students who learn differently. Asked why he chose Beacon College for his donation, Durand said, “Because it was convenient, we had the monetary ability to help people.”
Now, with his Beacon College donation, Robert Durand not only has helped beautify the school’s campus but also created an enduring memorial to his beautiful bride.
“The marriage that we all heard of that was deep and 59 years, the park will now reflect that marriage,” Hagerty said. “People will come here to talk to each other, to communicate openly with each other, to embrace each other, to find a common ground with each other, and to see a better future and reflect on all life means.”