Frankie  Welch

Frankie Welch, age 97, of Charlottesville, VA, died peacefully on Thursday, September 2, 2021. She was born Mary Frances Barnett on March 29, 1924, in Rome, GA, daughter of the late Genie Morton Barnett and the late James Wyatt Barnett. She was preceded in death by her husband and childhood sweetheart, William Calvin Welch, also from Rome. Frankie graduated from Rome High School in 1941, then attended Furman University, where she studied clothing and design. In 1952, the Welches moved to Alexandria, VA, where she offered private fashion consulting and taught fashion and sewing classes for the YWCA and local schools. In 1963, she opened her own clothing store, Frankie Welch of Virginia, which became a fixture for fashionable women in the Washington, D.C. area. Her customers included congressional wives, diplomats, leading reporters, and several first ladies. In particular, First Lady Betty Ford was a devoted client and friend who purchased much of her wardrobe from Frankie Welch of Virginia. One of the highlights of Frankie's career was when Ford donated a dress she designed to the Smithsonian Institution's First Ladies Collection. When the shop closed in 1990 Lady Bird Johnson was among those who called Frankie to reminisce. Frankie is best known as a scarf designer. She introduced her first scarf, the Cherokee Alphabet, in 1967, inspired by a visit to Rome where she saw the Cherokee syllabary in a history book of her father's. She designed her second scarf for a fashion show at the White House in 1968, then quickly designed a series of political fashions and textiles for that year's presidential campaign. From the late 1960s through the 1990s, Frankie designed thousands of custom scarves for a variety of institutions, businesses, political campaigns, and individuals. She created many designs connected to Georgia, including for Jimmy Carter, the Floyd County Medical Center, Berry College, Shorter College, the National City Bank of Rome, the Georgia Library Association, the Garden Club of Georgia, and the University of Georgia. She always loved returning to Rome, where she was honored by two Frankie Welch Days (in 1969 and 2010) and exhibitions at the Rome Area History Museum (in 1999 and 2010) and the Chieftains Museum (in 2019-20). Frankie Welch retired to Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge in Charlottesville, VA in 2001. She donated large collections of her scarves and archives to the Rome Area History Museum and to the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia, which will hold a major exhibition of her work early next year. Frankie Welch is survived by her two daughters, Peggy Welch Williams (Page) of Charlottesville, VA, and Genie Welch Leisure (David) of Deer Valley, Utah; three grandchildren, Lindsay Williams Dota (Bryan) of Mt. Pleasant, SC, Kevin Page Williams (Dana) of Charlotte, NC, and Ramsey Ratcliffe Stewart (Charles) of Salt Lake City, Utah; and great-grandchildren Anneslee Page Dota, Emma Mae Dota, and Rowan James Williams. The family wishes to acknowledge with gratitude Rhonda Bowles, her longtime dear friend and caregiver. She and Frankie shared much laughter and love. Frankie enjoyed her years at Westminster, engaging with many friends and the entire community. She always had a kind word and a compliment to all. We also send our thanks to the Staff of Westminster Canterbury, who showed Frankie such affection and compassion for the 20 years she lived there. A private family graveside service was held at Monticello Memory Gardens. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge Foundation, 250 Pantops Mountain Road, Charlottesville, VA 22911. Condolences may be sent to the family at www.hillandwood.com

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