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A designer, in business as well as civic life

Dorothy Shreve started her own design firm in the 1950s, but she also made her mark in church and civic affairs.

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2002

BAYSHORE BEAUTIFUL -- Life was one big event for Dorothy Shreve.

Whether she was planning a church Christmas dinner or decorating a house for newlyweds, she poured herself in until she knew her work was perfect.

"She was always driven by some sort of event," said her son, Kirk Dabolt. "There was always an end to the means."

Dorothy Irion Dabolt Shreve, the longtime owner of an interior design studio and an avid antiques collector and civic volunteer, died Dec. 11 at Tampa General Hospital. She was 87.

Appropriately, Mrs. Shreve's life began in Shreveport, La., as the only daughter of Alfred Briggs Irion and Lottie Virginia Dixon. Her father, an oil man, was forced to travel often, so Dorothy was raised largely by her grandparents, Dr. Clifford Hill Irion and Caroline King Irion.

Dr. Irion, a physician, taught his granddaughter the importance of order and structure, beginning with the family dinner table.

"It was all set about just how the doctor wanted," Dabolt said. "He would sit there and they wouldn't start to eat until he came to sit at the table. When he was through and got up, they knew everything was over with. It was pretty structured."

Mrs. Shreve attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., majoring in business with a minor in art design.

While visiting a cousin in Memphis, Tenn., she met Fred Dabolt. The two began courting and soon married.

In 1946, the couple came to Tampa, where they found work managing a dry cleaning business across from Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club.

Cleaning elaborate drapes and tapestries piqued an interest in Mrs. Shreve that had been untapped since her days at Northwestern State. In the 1950s, the two left the dry cleaning business, and Mrs. Shreve began working for an interior design firm.

Before long, Mrs. Shreve went into business for herself, a bold move for a woman in the 1950s. She opened Dorothy I. Dabolt Studio of Interior Design.

"It was a little scary," her son said. "But she was one of these individuals that was extremely determined. And she knew she was good at what she did."

Her clients felt the same way, Dabolt said.

"Everyone that she had as a client continued year after year after year to come back to her," he said. "She'd had some clients for 25-30 years that wouldn't do anything with respect to their houses unless she could do it."

Dorothy and Fred Dabolt divorced in the early 1960s, and Dorothy married Donald Shreve later that decade. In the 1970s, she lost both men in the span of one year -- Dabolt died in 1976, Shreve in 1977.

Though grieving, she devoted herself to other interests. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Society of the Mayflower Descendants, and she once served as president of Hyde Park Preservation, Inc.

At St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Mrs. Shreve was president of Episcopal Christian Women, and she often helped prepare holiday dinners.

She also loved to travel.

"She would travel at the drop of a hat, if she had the time," Dabolt said. She visited Europe, China and South Africa, among other places.

In her travels, she looked for antiques. A member of the Antiques Collectors Club, she possessed an extensive collection of Oriental prints, pottery, silks and etchings. In her living room alone, she had 15 Asian paintings and a large Chinese horse sculpture.

She attended antiques shows up and down the east coast. Dabolt said it gave her almost as much joy as decorating houses.

"It gave her great pride in being able to transform somebody's house from something that they were either tired of or unhappy with into something that not only the client, but the individual that did it, could enjoy," he said.

Mrs. Shreve was preceded in death by two brothers, Alfred Briggs Irion Jr. and Thomas Keith Irion. Her survivors include a son, Kirk I. Dabolt, of Charlotte, N.C.; a brother, John Stafford Irion, of Lafayette, La.; and three grandchildren.

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