When Dorothy Weaver loved a city, she made an impact.
In Medellin, Colombia, she started a bilingual girls school. In Miami, she broke barriers for businesswomen and helped shepherd $8 billion of federal aid to Miami after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In Maine, she orchestrated elaborate family reunions and island-wide concerts.
She died Friday, surrounded by her family, of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. She was 72.
Weaver was born in Dallas, where her father, former U.S. Rep. James Collins, was one of two Republicans representing Texas. The other was George H.W. Bush, who became a close friend of the family. She was working for Bush when she met her future husband, David.
After they married, the young couple moved to Montreal, then to Medellin to run her father’s textile and apparel firm. There she learned Spanish, served on the board of Granjas Infantiles, a girls orphanage, and founded a bilingual elementary school. She had two children in Colombia, Christina and Andres, who learned Spanish before English and were accompanied throughout the then-dangerous city by bodyguards.
In 1977, the family decided to find a new home and settled in Miami. The city would never be the same, friends and business partners agree.
“She had such an impact while never leaving fingerprints,” said longtime friend and now federal judge Patricia Seitz. “She had a vision for how this community should develop.”
The Weavers founded Intercap Investments, which propelled the couple to the top ranks of the business community. Dorothy was named president of the Junior League of Miami and became the second woman to lead the influential Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce from 1987 to 1988, where she helped found an immigration committee.
“She would break glass ceilings and then make sure to pull people up behind her,” Seitz said.
Weaver was named to a steady stream of boards and committees, including chairing the Beacon Council, the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Governor’s Workforce Education Committee.
When the Weavers moved to Miami, they quickly became friends with Sue and Chuck Cobb, and remained close for the rest of their lives. Sue said she and Dorothy would often go on long walks together to talk about everything in their lives, from their families to Weaver’s orphanage, which she was deeply involved with her entire life.
“She was the sister I never had. She was the person I could talk to,” Sue Cobb said. “ She was just a wonderful person.”
Cobb had plane tickets to go see Weaver on Monday.
The last time the friends were together in Miami they spent the afternoon at the Coral Gables Yacht Club, one of Weaver’s favorite places in the city.
“She always had time for her friends and to be genuinely present with the person she was with,” Seitz said. “It’s very hard to accept the fact that I will not see her or hear that incredibly confident, kind, strong voice again.”
Friends and associates say Weaver’s strong voice, and her close connection to the first President Bush, came in handy after Hurricane Andrew, when Weaver was tasked with lobbying the federal government for disaster money. Chuck Cobb, then-U.S. Ambassador to Iceland, joined Weaver in D.C. as she made the rounds asking for money.
“As a community, we got $8 billion primarily because of Dorothy Weaver,” he said. “Dorothy Weaver did it.”
When President Bush sent his transportation secretary Andy Card down to Miami to oversee the federal response to Andrew, Weaver worked with him to lead the community effort. He credits her with mobilizing compassion from people who didn’t understand the breadth of the disaster, at the time the worst in U.S. history.
“Dorothy was a force,” he said. “She had a way of inviting you to accept the challenge. If you didn’t say yes to her you’d feel guilty, and you’d come back begging for the chance to say yes.”
Weaver went on to work with We Will Rebuild, a committee of private business people who lobbied for more disaster relief funds, gave out grants and helped shape the rebuilding process.
She also co-chaired the Miami Coalition for a Drug Free Community, chaired the Federal Reserve Bank of Miami, chaired the Governor’s Council on Economic Advisers for the State of Florida and served on the national board of the Red Cross.
In the early ‘90s, Weaver and her brother formed Collins Capital Investments, which made her one of the few women in the industry. She went on to serve as a director of Coldwell Banker.
Shelly Berg, dean of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, became friends with Weaver through her husband, a UM trustee. The school’s new recital hall will feature an auditorium named after the couple.
After a few years, Berg and his wife got so close with the Weavers they they were invited to the big annual family reunions at their island home in Dark Harbour, Maine.
“She ran it like the general,” Berg laughed. “She could have 100 people up there and run it to the minute and everything would be perfect. She made everything work.”
When the Bergs visited, Shelly organized for musicians around the country to fly in and perform. Sometimes they would even perform free shows for the whole island in the Weavers’ giant, restored barn. On the nights where singers and bands would perform, Berg said, Weaver would stay up so late to listen she was always the last to bed.
Weaver is survived by her husband, David, her daughter and son, five grandchildren and her 97-year-old mother.
A memorial is being planned in Miami in the coming weeks. Instead of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Dorothy C. Weaver Fund to Cure Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis through the Miami Foundation.