LEOMINSTER, Mass. — Don Featherstone, the designer of the pink plastic flamingo and a presence at many of the annual Flamingo Festivals held each summer in Southwest Harbor, has died at the age of 79.
According to the Associated Press, Featherstone died Monday at an elder care facility in Fitchburg, Mass., after struggling with dementia.
Featherstone designed the iconic lawn ornament in 1957 while working for Union Products of Leominster. The flamingo was the second lawn ornament he designed after joining the company.
“I did the duck first and then the flamingo,” Featherstone told the Islander in 2006. During his 43-year career, he designed nearly 750 plastic lawn ornaments, replicating almost “every animal you can think of,” he said.
In that same interview, Featherstone said he wasn’t sure why the pink flamingo became the top seller for Union Products.
“I wish I knew what it was,” he said. “I would have made more of them.”
Featherstone and his wife, Nancy, began coming to Southwest Harbor in 1996 to help Harbor House Community Service Center celebrate its Flamingo Festival fundraiser. The outgoing and likeable couple always dressed in flamingo-themed clothes made by Nancy and could be seen riding in the parade, autographing Featherstone’s flamingos and at the cocktail party hosted by the tongue-in-cheek Southwest Harbor Polo and Yacht Club. They both quickly became part of the greater Harbor House community.
Featherstone last attended the Harbor House festival in 2012. His declining health kept him from making the trip to Southwest Harbor. Harbor House board member Scott Worcester remembers Featherstone fondly.
“He was a great guy and had a love of life,” Worcester said. “He got great pleasure in making people laugh.”
Having the Featherstones in Southwest Harbor for the July festival made the Harbor House celebration even more special, Worcester said.
“That was the coup de grace, to have the designer of the pink flamingo at the Flamingo Festival,” he said.
Ingrid Wilbur Kachmar, Harbor House’s executive director, said organizers plan a tribute to Featherstone at this year’s festival, scheduled for July 17-20.
Union Products went out of business in 2006, endangering the pink avian. Cado Products bought the company and resumed production, saving the kitschy lawn ornament from extinction. It is estimated there are more Featherstone flamingos worldwide than real flamingos.