Manatee mother celebrates family life at Crosley Estate

MANATEE -- Bradenton's Rachel Blair celebrated Mother's Day surrounded by family among roughly 200 guests Sunday lunching at the two-and-a-half-story Powel Crosley Jr. mansion built in 1929 along Sarasota Bay in the southwest corner of Manatee County.

Blair, an office assistant at the Bradenton Area Convention Center who worked 18 years for Wellcraft, was seated at a large round table in the great room of the Mediterranean Revival-style house on North Tamiami Trail with gussied-up family members all around.

There was her husband of 38 years, Tropicana retiree Jim Blair; her daughter, Melisa Elliott, 37, a financial adviser from Deltona; son, Ryan, 33, in the heating and air conditioning business in Tampa; and her only grandchildren, Melisa's, Lexie, 10, and Austin, 5.

A warming sun streamed into the palatial former winter retreat of storied Cincinnati residents, Powel and Gwendolyn Crosley, which they named Seagate.

Blair said she had come a long way from rural Manatee County beginnings to arrive at this table with linen napkins for a Mother's Day brunch at $39 per head.

From her seat, she could pick up the aroma of wild salmon and freshly made omelets from Chef Roberta Montelione, owner of in-house caterer, Milan Catering and Event Design.

Blair could hear the rich, full sounds of trumpet player Jevon Smooth playing "Fragile" by Sting on the back patio. She could glimpse guests dining outside in the pavilion near the bay.

The daughter of Joe and Lucille Boyette, Rachel Blair grew up in a log cabin in the woods of East Manatee not far from Linger Lodge. She attended Oneco Elementary School.

"I was the youngest of four kids, including three brothers, and we all played out in the woods all day," Blair said, winking at the sight of her grandson at the table in a deeply committed relationship with a game on grandma's

tablet. "We didn't have iPads."

The Boyette youngsters would make tree forts, she said.

"I went back there recently and where we played is now a subdivision," Blair said. "It looks so small. When I was growing up it seemed so big."

Blair was best friends with Jim Blair's half sister, Nancy Brown. The girls would go on to Southeast High School where Rachel Boyette graduated in 1975.

Nancy's brother, Jim, said he thought Rachel Boyette was cute, but he couldn't work up the courage to ask her out.

"So he asked me out through Nancy," Rachel Blair said.

"It worked didn't it?" asked Jim Blair, who worked 30 years at Tropicana and now works part-time as a handyman for Manatee County government.

"It did, but I wouldn't say 'yes' for the date until you asked me yourself," she replied.

Melisa Blair graduated from Bayshore High School in 1996 as did her brother, Ryan, in 1999.

"Mom is the best person in the world," Ryan Blair said of his mom, who smiled. "She's always very happy. She likes to laugh."

"I thing I will always remember about mom is what a great multitasker she is," said Melisa Blair. "I can remember coming home from school and smelling her black-eyed peas and rice cooking. She would call us from work and say, 'Please stir the peas.' We got home before she did."

"Thank God for the invention of the crock pot," Rachel Blair said with a giggle.

Melisa and Ryan Blair said the family unfailingly ate dinner together every night at the dining room table.

Ryan Blair was a Dennis the Menace as a youngster. At seven months he fractured his skull. He fell out of a tree in fifth grade. One day he ran into a tree. Once he used his bed as a trampoline and cut his head open while Rachel Blair was at work.

"I had to be mom until she got home," Melisa Blair said.

One family dog was named "Why Me?" because it had sad eyes. Another was named Newport after Jim Blair's cigarettes.

Gizmo, a Lhasa Apso, was named after the nice creature in the movie "Gremlins," not the mean one.

Jim Blair looked across the table at his wife Sunday and said: "I can tell you right off what I like best about my wife. Do you remember the song, 'I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl that Married Dear Old Dad)?' That's Rachel. My mom, Lucille Black, was the kind of women you could talk to about anything. Rachel is the same way. I can talk to her about anything."

When Ryan Blair decided to join the U.S. Army, which he did from 1999 to 2007, Rachel wouldn't sign the papers althugh her husband did. Although, on this Mother's Day, she said she would have signed if push came to shove.

"I don't think any mom wants to see their child go and join the armed forces," Rachel Blair said. "But now I am glad he did. I am proud of him."

At the end of her Mother's Day party, the family discussed inventor and entrepreneur Powel Crosley Jr., who owned the Cincinnati Reds, manufactured radios, started Crosley Broadcasting Corp. and built the 21-room home Manatee County now owns and rents for special events, wedding receptions and private parties.

It was agreed Rachel Blair had invented, just as skillfully, a family.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.