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Former band leader 'demanded respect'

Under Robert C. Cotter's direction, Largo High's Band of Gold expanded and won numerous competitions.

By LORRI HELFAND

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001


Robert C. Cotter, the former director of the Largo Band of Gold, died Friday (Jan. 19, 2001) at Park Ridge Hospital in Fletcher, N.C. He was 78.

When Mr. Cotter took over the Largo High School band in 1968, it was just "another high school band," according to Circuit Judge Joseph G. Donahey, who volunteered for the band for many years.

But under his leadership, the Band of Gold grew from fewer than 80 members to about 500 and went on to win numerous state and national competitions. The band traveled twice to Kerkrade, Holland, for the World Music Contest, and it brought home three gold medals in 1978.

Donahey, who became a close friend of Cotter, saw firsthand why the band achieved such greatness with Mr. Cotter's guidance.

"It was remarkable to see how he gained the confidence and the commitment of the kids and how he persuaded them subtly that they were different, that they were better," he said.

"He would set levels of performance for them and just as they were about to attain whatever level that was set, he would raise the bar."

Mr. Cotter also had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. Former student Janet Sica said she remembered it well.

"He demanded your respect and got it," she said.

Sica said that his firmness taught her a valuable lesson.

"He taught you that anything you set your mind to you could do."

Donahey said he once asked Mr. Cotter why he had so many rules.

"This is just a way of showing them they are different," Mr. Cotter told him.

Mr. Cotter was born in Camden, N.J., and grew up in Philadelphia, where he graduated from Temple University with degrees in music and engineering.

He served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and was a 32nd degree Mason. He was a teacher in Bernardsville, N.J., before coming to Florida in 1955 to join a large industrial mixing company.

During a teachers' strike in 1968, the choir director at First United Methodist Church of Clearwater asked him to fill in. And according to his daughter, Karen Roughton, "He loved it so much he stayed."

Mr. Cotter worked at Largo High until 1980, when he moved to Louisiana. He later moved to Bath, Maine, where he was the chief financial officer of Hyde School, a private preparatory school.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Mary Louise; a daughter, Karen Roughton, Greenville, S.C.; a son, Robert W., Gaffney, S.C.; and four grandchildren. Jayson Bocook and Chris Roughton, both of Greenville, and Robert Graham and Thomas Joseph Cotter, both of Gaffney.

Thomas Shepherd & Son Funeral Home in Hendersonville, N.C., is handling arrangements. The Cotter family requested that no flowers be sent. In lieu of flowers they ask that donations be made to the Robert R. Cotter Memorial Scholarship Fund, at Band of Gold Alumni Association, P.O. Box 919, Valley Forge, PA 19482-0919.

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