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May 17, 2018 7:12 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Roberta Gosman Donovan, Of Gosman's Restaurant, Dies At 85

May 21, 2018 10:00 AM

The Montauk community lost one of its most familiar faces last week: Roberta Gosman Donovan, the manager of Gosman’s Restaurant in Montauk. She died at home on Thursday, May 10, at the age of 85.Ms. Gosman Donovan was the eldest child of Robert and Mary Gosman, founders of the popular seafood restaurant. Born on October 31, 1932, she grew up in Amagansett with her parents and five brothers: John, Emmett, William, Hubert and Richard.

Speaking over the phone on Monday, Richard Gosman said his sister was the smartest of the Gosman children, and she ended up traveling all over the world to such places as Africa, Antarctica and Thailand. Working at Gosman’s for more than 50 years, she oversaw duties going on front-and-center of the restaurant, including hiring and connecting new staff members.

“Most locals back then, when they were 14, they got a job. There was a need to help people find work, and Gosman’s was the place in town to go,” her brother said. “She hired dozens of locals over the years, and a lot of foreign students, too—especially Irish kids, because our mother was Irish, so we had a special connection there.”

David Piacente, the restaurant’s executive chef, was hired by Ms. Donovan seven years ago. “She was always incredibly generous, sincere, supportive and a fan of my food,” he said this week. “She was definitely a great woman.”

Tina Brennan of Ireland spent three summers working as a hostess starting in 1984, when she was 19. Her mother, Kathleen Noone, was a cousin of Ms. Donovan’s. Ms. Brennan described her former boss as strict but a kind person.

“When I first met her, she scared the life out of me and reminded me that the customer was always number one,” Ms. Brennan said. “But she was also very kind. If you had made good friends with other people on staff, she’d try to put you on the same shift as them.”

Ms. Brennan said Ms. Donovan took her out to the Montauk Yacht Club when she first came to Montauk, and also let her be the one to seat famous musicians—like members of Abba, and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran—making it clear, though, that she could not ask for autographs.

“She had an air of confidence about her, with her sundress, scarf draped around her neck and sunglasses on her head,” Ms. Brennan said. “She was a statement woman.”

According to Chris Gosman, Ms. Donovan’s nephew, she served on the East Hampton Town Planning Board for seven years. Mr. Gosman said his aunt was also committed to supporting Music for Montauk, which presents free concerts for the public, along with supporting the fundraising efforts of the Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation.

“Her passion for the Playhouse was tied to her wanting to have a community cultural center in Montauk to offer theater, music and film,” Susan Henkin, executive director of the foundation, said on Wednesday, May 16. “She supported what we were going for enthusiastically.”

“She was very passionate about music and had a great sense of style and taste,” Lilah Gosman, Ms. Donovan’s niece and board president of Music for Montauk, said on Wednesday. “We trusted her decision-making.”

“She loved being a public face at Gosman’s,” Chris Gosman said. “There were a lot of longtime customers that she was happy to see, and she had people from all over the world working there. She was adept at blending people of different backgrounds together. She was a mother to a lot of people.”

“She felt a lot of pride in the name and place of Gosman’s,” Richard Gosman said. “She was not a bumpkin—she knew how to deal with people.”

Ms. Donovan had battled bladder and lung cancer, along with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease near the end of her life. Chris Gosman said she handled being sick with grace and courage while remaining a “warm … wonderful conversationalist.”

He credited his aunt with teaching him how to improve his skills in customer service management over the years.

“I just learned by watching her,” he said. “She never got fazed when dealing with customers or staff. I’d describe it as grace under fire.”

Roberta Gosman Donovan was buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in Montauk on Tuesday, May 15.

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Never met the lady, but spent some time deep water sailing with her late husband "Con" Donovan who passed nearly 30 years ago.


By Frank Wheeler (1808), Northampton on May 17, 18 1:38 PM
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