I want to share something extremely special with everyone who has been on this journey with me…. At Christmas I began emailing with one of my dad’s old college roommates – one of my “uncles” as I called them… little did I know this his class mates had come together and written a touching piece about my father, bringing together memories they had of him…
I cannot express how much it means to me to have these men of such steel and honor, expose their hearts and share this with me… and allow me to share it with the people who have been supporting me…
Doc was a man very much without pretense, and immensely likeable once you got to know him. At West Point, he put us all at ease instantly, but he also held his ground well, never hesitating to offer his view when he thought we were coming up short. His observations in this regard were usually ‘spot on’ and he earned our respect for his honesty. Doc lived a full-life, but one which ended much too early for his family and the friends who got to know him at West Point, in the Army, in his medical assignments, and in the communities where he lived.
Some of us met Doc during Beast Barracks the summer of 1968. Doc had the luck, or misfortune, to be assigned to a room with three “prepsters”, Mike. being one of them, in Beast. Having prior military experience, they had a head start on Doc with respect to the military training. Doc would laughingly tell the story of how the “prepsters” would send him out of the room first as a sacrifice to the upper classmen. While the upper classmen were all swarming Doc, they would exit their room unscathed.
Others of us met Doc when we were all assigned to Company D1 during Re-organization Week after Beast. His first roommates were Bob W. and Mitch. A door away were three other Plebes: Don, Shrives and Chuck. Together the six of them bonded and formed the “big bud club”. They would room together whenever possible; until, having too much fun, they were broken up. Others of us were fortunate to get Doc as a roommate on different occasions over our four years together at West Point. Our close friendships were forged during those four years; friendships that would last forever. Upon graduating, Doc started his military career in the Air Defense Artillery at Ft Bliss with several of his D1 classmates: Bob W., Shrives, LaDon, PJ and Chuck. He had subsequent assignments in Korea and at Ft Campbell.
Before embarking on our military careers, some of us decided to vacation in Europe together. The plan was for Doc, Shrives, Mitch and Chuck to meet at Mcguire Air Force Base to catch a hop to Europe. After meeting at Mcguire Air Force Base and waiting for a couple of days for a hop, Doc decided to abandon the trip and return home to his new girlfriend, Jean. We ribbed Doc about his choice of a girl friend over us; however, Doc new what he wanted and later made “Daz” his wife. Of course, in the family tradition, Daz was a nurse. Daz and Doc were blessed with a lovely daughter, Natalie.
Robert “Doc” came to West Point from New Enterprise, Pennsylvania from a family for whom medical service was its calling. Doc’s Father, Richard, was his hero and an “old fashioned” family doctor. His mother, Theresa, was a nurse. Some siblings followed in the medical service as doctor and as a nurse. One sibling was a renegade engineer. At West Point, we would ask him about the nickname, Doc, and after a brief explanation, we understood how it came to be.
After leaving the Army, Doc aligned his professional activities with his family’s service tradition to medicine, earning advanced degrees in Hospital Administration Western Kentucky University and Virginia Commonwealth University Medical College and then serving in succession from 1979 – 1987 in leadership positions at Blair, Pocono, and Roxborough hospitals in Pennsylvania. In 1987, he accepted a position as President and CEO of Jeannette District Memorial Hospital, Jeannette, Pa, serving in that capacity until 2002. Those of us who spoke with him during this time recognized how fully energized and engaged he was with his work and his contributions to the community, and his family.
Doc was a true family man. He was close to his parents and siblings. He had an especially close relationship with his sister, Jane. In 1985, the “apple of his eye” arrived when his daughter, Natalie, was born. He would spend his whole life doting on her. And of course, sticking with the family tradition and following in her Dad’s foot steps, Natalie decided to get her masters degree in Health Administration. Doc enjoyed taking Natalie and Jane to the Army-Navy game where they would hook-up with his classmates and their families. All our kids looked forward to that weekend every year. Doc would sometimes visit some of us with Jane and Natalie; to the Bob’s on the Jersey Shore and even to Ireland to visit the Chuck’s family in Dublin. Chuck tells the story about how Doc brought Natalie to Vermont to ski once. Doc’s idea of skiing was Chuck taking Nat out on the mountain and Doc sat in the lodge, by the fireplace, reading a book.
In 1998 Doc met Theresa and they married in 2001. Through this time Theresa was a strong force in Doc’s life. They travelled extensively, including a trip to China and enjoyed renovating their homes in Acme, Pa and Chincoteague, VA. Theresa and Bob shared many interests but above all, both valued serving their communities. Theresa supported and shared Doc’s work with several charities and we all remember how much Doc enjoyed working with kids as a high school football official. Since his death, Theresa has continued contribute to the communities they loved, setting up several scholarships in Bob’s name and has had a reading room in the Chincoteague Library.
The last time we were all together was our 30th Reunion in September of 2002. Theresa arranged for several of us to take over a B&B in Newburgh. At the time, only a few of us knew how ill Doc truly was. Of course, Doc did not want any special attention so he “soldiered” through. Upon his death, several classmates who were at the reunion commented that they did not see any indication that Doc was failing. That was our Doc, a private man, keeping his own council for personal challenges, but remaining eminently public for sharing joy with his family and friends.
Doc was a person of incredible humor, unique sincerity and depth, and a man who touched, with immense kindness, those around him. His life’s actions reflect the highest standards of honor and human decency. He lives in our hearts and in our minds and we are privileged to have spent time with this man.
Doc’s quotation from Edward E. Hale, which he placed under his picture in the 1972 Howitzer, was prophetic of the man Doc would become: “To look up and not down. To look forward and not back. To look out and not in. And to lend a hand.”
~His D1 Classmates
For more memories of my father please visit the Missing You page