Roberta Gosman Donovan, a Montauk icon, died May 10 at her home in Montauk. She had battled cancer for the past 10 years, and had recently been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which led to her final demise. She was 85 years old.
She was born October 31, 1932, in her parents’ house on Devon Road in Amagansett. Her mother, the former Mary Ellen Harrington, and her father, Robert H. Gosman were to become pivotal players in the development of Montauk. Roberta Gosman Donovan continued the momentum her parents started, helping to develop Montauk into what it is today.
Her early years growing up were during the Great Depression. She attended Amagansett School, then graduated from East Hampton High School. Her parents scratched together a living as best they could for themselves and their six children.
In 1943, her parents took a chance on opening a small lunch counter on the west side of the entrance to Lake Montauk, which had scant development, otherwise. That counter was the seed that grew into Gosman’s Dock, now a world-famous Montauk destination.
The children all worked in the restaurant when they were in their teens, her nephew, Christopher Gosman said this week. While Roberta Gosman was destined to become the face of the Gosman franchise, initially, after graduating from East Hampton High School, she explored other choices. She attended Rosemont College in Philadelphia, and spent a year in Switzerland at the University of Fribourg. When she returned to the United States, she lived in Manhattan for a time. A beautiful woman, she tried her hand at modelling.
But it was Montauk that was her calling. In the 1950s, she went to work full time in the family business, eventually running the flagship Gosman’s Restaurant. She was in charge of customer service, staff training, and hiring and firing. The restaurant continued to grow, with a major expansion in 1968. “She was the public face of Gosman’s for many, many years,” her nephew said.
While she worked hard during the summer season, after it ended, she cultivated a love for travel, vacationing in various destinations around the world. She was a true globe trekker. She visited all seven continents, her nephew said. “She loved to travel.”
In the 1970s, she met Cornelius Donovan, whom she eventually married. They would travel together. They had a schooner, the Apple Dore, which they sailed to exotic ports of call. During the summer season, he would sometimes show up at the restaurant on their scooter. She would jump on behind him, and off they would go. Cornelius Donovan died in the mid-1980s.
In 1981, she was shown one of the Seven Sisters, the seven houses designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, and constructed in the 1880s. Frederick Law Olmsted, who had designed Central Park, located each of the houses on the bluffs between Ditch Plains and the Air Force base near Montauk Point Lighthouse. The house she looked at was in poor, rundown condition, but she recognized it for the gem that it was and purchased it. She painstakingly restored the house to its 1880s splendor, and fought, successfully, to have the Seven Sisters placed in the National and State Registers of Historic Places, as well as in East Hampton Town’s designated Montauk Historic District.
She was always community-minded, and served on the East Hampton Town planning board for seven years. She was instrumental in the creation of the Music For Montauk program. She also played a role in the renovation and development of the Montauk Playhouse.
In the past couple of years, she cut back her involvement in the restaurant. In 2014, she moved to a house on Dogwood Road, where she passed away. She is survived by four brothers, all of whom make Montauk their home: Robert Emmett Gosman, John H. Gosman, William Shannon Gosman, and Richard Fleming Gosman. Counting Christopher Gosman, she is survived by 11 nieces and nephews. She is pre-deceased by a fifth brother, Hubert James Gosman.
The funeral mass was scheduled for May 15 at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Montauk, after which she was to be buried at Fort Hill Cemetery. The family asks that donations in her memory be made to Music for Montauk, PO Box 846, Montauk, NY, 11954, or the Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation, PO Box 1612, Montauk, NY 11954.