Actress Florence Henderson built a neighborly legacy over her three decades in Marina del Rey

By Christina Campodonico

Florence Henderson, who died on Thanksgiving, was “very much a local gal”

Florence Henderson, who died on Thanksgiving, was “very much a local gal”

Hollywood called Florence Henderson “America’s Favorite TV Mom.”

Marina del Rey locals called her a neighbor and friend.

Henderson, best known for playing Carol Brady on the hit 1970s television series “The Brady Bunch,” succumbed to heart failure on Thanksgiving Day at age 82. She died surrounded by friends and family at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to her manager.

The Broadway veteran and former “Dancing with the Stars” contestant moved to Marina del Rey in the mid-1980s and remained “in the marina right up to the end,” publicist Sanford Brokaw said.

Over 30-plus years in the marina, Henderson lived with her late husband Dr. John Kappas on a 90-foot yacht for over a decade, was a member of the California Yacht Club and served as grand marshal for the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade twice — first in 1991 and again in 2015.

Participating in the boat parade was a memorable experience for Henderson.

“It’s very interesting, you know, that you can hear people who are on the sidelines, watching the parade,” Henderson told The Argonaut in anticipation of last year’s parade. “They’ll sing along with you and you can hear people saying, ‘Hi Florence!’ … you know, ‘Hi Carol Brady!’ I’m always surprised about how many people participate and how important it is for people.”

Christine Rohde, a member of the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade Board of Directors, escorted Henderson on the grand marshal boat last year. She recalled how Henderson “rallied the troops” with her enthusiasm and exuberance.

“She was so gracious, welcoming everybody, shouting to the crowd,” said Rohde. “Her fans were along the parade route and she’d yell back at them and wave. She was so appreciative of everyone’s attention.”

“It was a very special evening,” continued Rohde, recalling that Henderson generously paused to take pictures with her fans before boarding the boat. “She’s everything you would imagine her to be, and even warmer and more personable than comes across on TV. … She was so gracious to whoever wanted a picture with her. She had time for everybody.”

Rohde also noted that Henderson was “very much a local gal” — a “fixture” and “ambassador for the marina” who could be spotted regularly at the California Pizza Kitchen on Fiji Way and at J. Nichols Kitchen, where the staff named a special made-to-order sandwich in her honor.

The Florence Reuben has all the trimmings of a regular Reuben sandwich, says J. Nichols server Christian Beltran, except Henderson would substitute turkey for the typical corned beef.

“She was the only one to come in and order it” but it quickly became a staff favorite, Beltran said. “She got us hooked.”

Beltran described Henderson as not only a regular customer, but also a “motherly figure” who emanated a friendly glow whenever she came in.

“Everyone here knew her as Flo,” he said.

Henderson was also a familiar face at Café del Rey, where maître d’ Jan Mizuno often interacted with the star and her daughter Barbara. Over the years, Mizuno found Henderson to be as genuine and kindhearted as the TV mom she portrayed. For instance, when Mizuno’s mother died about four years ago, Henderson personally delivered a signed sympathy card.

“She’s so famous. For her to take the time to write the card and bring it in, that really touched me,” said Mizuno. “To do such a kind thing, it just shows she’s down to earth.”

Henderson, who is survived by four children and five grandchildren, reveled in the hometown feel of Marina del Rey.

“Being somewhat well-known, there are places that I can go here by myself, if I choose, and I know everybody,” Henderson told The Argonaut in 2015. “I feel at home here. This is my community.”