Florence Matthews, 80, tavern owner

Florence Matthews
Florence Matthews
Posted: July 15, 2014

Florence Matthews, 80, of Mount Laurel, beloved local restaurateur, accomplished cook, crack bartender, and hostess extraordinaire, died Wednesday, July 2, at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.

She was in the hospital for dehydration, her oldest daughter, Judy Dress, said. She had been receiving treatment for colon cancer.

Mrs. Matthews, better known as Flo, spent her professional life in hospitality, and she learned it by doing it.

At 15, she was waitressing at a diner in the nation's capital called the Dollhouse. Marriage brought her north to New Jersey, where she waitressed in such venerable Cherry Hill institutions as the swanky Latin Casino, Cinelli's restaurant, and the Cherry Hill Inn.

In 1985, she fulfilled her dream of a place of her own and opened the popular Flo's Lakeside Tavern in Hainesport with her husband, Kenneth Matthews.

"She knew the business stem to stern," Dress said.

"She was kind of quiet but strong inside," the daughter said. "She was hospitality-oriented, but she knew how to handle the late-night bar crowd."

That inner strength took her far.

On Sept. 15, 1933, she was born to Robert and Beulah Kilby on a farm family in Remington, Va.

"She drove a tractor for them at the age of 9," Dress said.

Her father was much older than her mother, and when he died and the mother took ill, Mrs. Matthews, then 15, moved herself and her mother to the D.C. area, where she supported them both by waitressing.

At 16, she gave birth to Dress; two years later she had a son.

"My mother would never talk about that time," Dress said. She did what she had to do, waitressing to support her children and mother, Dress said.

A few years later, she met James Ronaldson, a military man. They wed and moved to New Jersey, bringing her mother along.

They divorced several years later. Mrs. Matthews, by then, was raising four children, taking care of her mother, and working double shifts without complaining, her daughter said.

"My mother never complained about anything," Dress said.

She found love and constancy with Ken Matthews, the banquet manager at the Cherry Hill Inn, where she waitressed. The couple had a child, bringing Flo's brood to five. They bought a house in Mount Laurel.

And they had their restaurant.

"She was the personality," Dress said, "what they call in the industry the front of the house."

It was like a home away from home to the family and to their grandchildren to come. Dress said she and one of her sisters worked there, and even the grandkids helped out. Ken Matthews died about 17 years ago, but Mrs. Matthews kept the place going.

The tavern had a small but lively bar, the restaurant was tastefully rustic, with wood paneling, table linens and fine china from Wanamaker's, and the food, Dress said, was delicious, made from her mother's recipes.

The hours were long, but the memories were good, Dress said. The restaurant closed once a year: Christmas. On that day, her mother and one of her cooks would make a massive feast for the family, as many as 70 people.

"She loved her family - the big kids, the little kids," Dress said. She was "Mom-Mom" to 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

An avid jitterbugger in her younger days, Mrs. Matthews had her last dance five years ago with a grandson at his wedding, Dress said.

In addition to Dress, her grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, Mrs. Matthews is survived by daughters Robin Zwick and Tammy Prasol and sons John and James Ronaldson.

A memorial service will be Tuesday, July 15, at 1:30 p.m. at the Lewis Funeral Home, 78 E. Main St., Moorestown.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to St. Jude Children's Hospital, P.O. Box 1000, Department 142, Memphis, Tenn. 38105. Attention: Account Number 36301753.

Like her late husband, Mrs. Matthews donated her body to science. Eventually, Dress said, their ashes may be spread across their beloved ocean. Sometimes, they just went fishing.


rgiordano@phillynews.com

856-779-3893

@ritagiordano

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