He paid attention to everything. He checked out each garden, told me what was new or good in it, what the garden keeper had done that was special. He wanted to know the name of each plant, each flower, and would ask a resident the exact spelling of its name. We had a special spot that we both liked, where a tree bent over the stream, which he would duly check and tell me whatever had recently changed.
He wanted to hear about the places I had been and what was special about them. Generalities did not interest him; he wanted specifically to know what I had experienced, what it had meant for me.
We talked about Reston. I told him what I liked and what I didn’t. Though some thought I should not tell him what I didn’t like – he might be upset – he was quite open. He would pugnaciously contradict me, but never stop me. He liked good polemics and I think he enjoyed debating an adverse point of view.
We talked about politics. It was certainly his favorite subject, and he had no hesitation skewering naïve and uninformed opinions. He detested the growing inegalitarianism in the US, the unquestioning adoration of military prowess and surreptitious partisan effort to restrict minority voting.
We walked together every morning, except when one of us was out of town. When we started we walked all round the Lake Anne; later he shortened his route, and I would walk with him and then some additional distance on my own.
I often walked with a dog. It was amazing how gracious he was, when the dog would unaccountably move from left to right, or vice versa, and get in the way of his walking stick. He simply moved to the other side and let the dog have his way. He would say, “Let her have her way and follow her interest. After all, we are following ours.”
But something went wrong on a bright fall morning. Driving carefree, his father suddenly saw what looked like a large crack in the road and trying hastily to steer round it. He ended in a roadside ditch. As it went, the car toppled and turned upside down. Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt; Bob and a sister had minor bruises.
What followed was even more miraculous. While the children crawled out of the car, his father was stuck in the car. His mother promptly took command of the situation, lined up the kids on one side and asked them to push the car to a side and then, singlehandedly, pulled out his father.
At 21, after finishing college, Bob went to work for a company to gain some work experience. The very next year his father died. He suddenly had to take charge of his father’s company and the Carnegie Hall.
An employee who had worked long for his father became his right-hand man. Bob thought, given his limited familiarity with his father’s affairs, the man would be an asset before he could find his feet. Two months later he found that the person, knowing that Bob was less familiar than his father with the company's affairs, had cooked the books and stolen money.
Though uncertain that he could manage without the man’s help, he could not bear to work with a person who had abused his trust. He sacked the man and plunged himself into a determined study of the company’s accounts.
Some Union Leaders
The union members who had worked with his father knew that he was diligent and knowledgeable, and had never tried to run rings round him. Theirs’ was a cautious, respectful relationship. When Bob took over, the union thought the young man could be a pushover and started making exorbitant demands.
Bob was nervous. He was new, young and inexperienced, while his adversaries were mature, experienced and fully familiar with the business. But he was also a quick learner and resolute negotiator. He readily talked with the union bosses, any time they wanted, but he would not cede ground unless he saw a good reason.
In a few months, the union leaders realized that they would have to make a good case if they wanted to extract a concession from Bob.
A Special Hotel
A tall, soft-spoken woman joined the staff as Booking Manager for Carnegie Hall. Bob liked her from the start and ended up marrying her.
Bob had planned a great honeymoon. After considering several hotels, he chose one that seemed just perfect: it entailed short travel, the price was right, and its cuisine was reportedly excellent.
When he arrived with his wife, the clerk was cagey and quickly called the manager. The manager took one look at Bob and his papers and said he could not find a place for the couple.
He explained that his was a classy hotel. He could not accommodate Jews, without upsetting his top-class clients. Bob had to take his bride and, late in the evening, go in search of another hotel.
In the Army
At 29 Bob joined the US Army. “Unlike all the wars that followed," he said to me, "this was a very emotional war. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t join. I could have avoided because of my age and my work. But I couldn’t and wouldn’t. I went.”
He first underwent training at Camp John in Long Island and then more training at Camp Lee, later renamed Fort Lee, in Virginia. He was then sent to Kansas and Nebraska for further training, and eventually posted in the quartermaster’s office.
He worked for two years in Brussels, Belgium, mostly on logistics, buying pulp for paper making, when France was finally freed. He was assigned to France for a year and found the major part of his work was to a find a way through the intricate French bureaucracy.
Wine in Paris
Given the chaos of occupied France, neither expected much of the exploration. Bob made the trip, but his expectation sank further when he saw the extensive signs of allied bombing and a series of razed buildings. The potbellied warehouse manager pointed to one and said, “Our largest store has been reduced to ashes.”
Bob waited quietly for bad news as the manager riffled through old records of deposits. “Let us see what is left,” he said, and walked with Bob to a dusty corner of the warehouse that hadn’t been destroyed.
After a short search the man found what he was looking for. There lay, in neat order, all the sixteen packages of Bob’s aunt’s property. The man could have as easily said the property was in the other warehouse and destroyed, and appropriated the property himself. But he hadn’t even touched the most valuable and tempting part of the collection: the aunt’s huge prized collection of vintage wines, including an open crate with eight high-price bottles.
Bob, 101, died this week. I will miss our walks.