David Welles Strawbridge, 81, of Radnor, who was among the fourth generation of heirs to lead the iconic Strawbridge & Clothier department chain, died June 26. His family did not disclose a cause of death.
Mr. Strawbridge retired as vice president of personnel in 1996 when Strawbridge shareholders voted to sell the 128-year-old Philadelphia chain to May Department Stores Co. Strawbridge’s was later sold to Macy’s, and the Strawbridge name was phased out in 2006.
“Everyone felt just heartbroken about the sale,” said his son, Christopher Welles Strawbridge. “The biggest sort of heartbreak had to do mostly with the dispossession of the store family” — the employees with whom Mr. Strawbridge had close contact in his role as head of personnel.
He described his father as “a private guy” who was “totally devoted” to his three grandchildren. He said he has been impressed by the outpouring of emotion and goodwill toward his father from former Strawbridge employees and customers who have heard about his recent and sudden passing.
“We’re just really sorry to see him go,” he said. “We were just all so surprised and shocked. And you know we wish that we had more time with him.”
A lifelong resident of the Main Line, Mr. Strawbridge was an active member of the community, serving on the board of the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter for many years, including three as chairman. He also served on the board of the Haverford School and the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, now part of Thomas Jefferson University.
He also attended and devoted himself to the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, serving on its vestry committee and as rector’s warden in the late 1990s.
Mr. Strawbridge played tennis and squash and enjoyed solving the daily Jumble puzzle in The Inquirer over the phone with his younger sister, Nancy Nord. He was a diehard Eagles fan and loved spending time down at the Jersey Shore. Later in his life, he reconnected with and met annually with friends he’d made as a student while working summers at the Buck Hill resort in Buck Hill Falls in the Poconos.
Mr. Strawbridge was born in 1940 in Bryn Mawr, a great-grandson of Justus Strawbridge, one of the store’s founders. He graduated in 1958 from the Haverford School, and in 1962 from Trinity College. His career in retailing began at Bloomingdale’s in New York for a year-long training program, before he joined his older brother, cousins, and uncles at Strawbridge & Clothier in Philadelphia.
He worked through a variety of positions at Strawbridge’s: assistant buyer, buyer, assistant store manager, store manager, director of personnel, and finally vice president of personnel for the entire 13-store organization. He became a member of the board of directors in 1978.
His elder brother, Francis R. Strawbridge III, was chairman of the company when it was sold in 1996. A cousin, Peter Strawbridge, was president.
”For us, this is more than a job,” Mr. Strawbridge, speaking of his family, said in 1988. “It’s who we are.”
Mr. Strawbridge is survived by his children, Christopher Strawbridge and Geoffrey Dows Strawbridge; three grandchildren; his brother; his sister ; and his former wife, Mary Ellen Partel.
A funeral will be held at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, July 24 at the Church of the Redeemer, 230 Pennswood Rd. in Bryn Mawr, with a reception to follow at the church parish house. His service will be livestreamed on theredeemer.org. The burial is private.
Donations may be made to the church or the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter.