Monday, March 2, 2009

Mr. Dillon

This is long overdue, but want to read a nice obituary?

Robert Thomas ("Bob") Dillon
The greatest generation receded a bit further into history with the death of Robert Thomas ("Bob") Dillon, 84, at St. Francis Hospital on February 11, 2009. He was a resident at Edenbrook of Charleston. He was born in a cabin at the foot of the Blue Ridge in Patrick County, Va, on October 29, 1924, the son of Arnold Guy and Mellie Weaver Dillon. In the winter he went to bed with his brother and a flatiron heated in the fire, and woke to find the bed clothes covered by a dust of snow, blown through the cracks in the roof. He logged the mountains with mules, and tended the moonshine still used to pay the other loggers. He rode with NASCAR legend Curtis Turner. In 1941 he won the banjo competition in Galax, playing his original composition, "Coal Creek March," later recorded by Pete Seeger, Dock Boggs, and David ("Stringbean") Ackerman*. In 1943 he graduated from high school in Stuart, Va, and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served as a radio gunner on dive bombers flying out of Midway Island until honorably discharged at war's end. In 1946 he enrolled in the College of William and Mary and, taking advantage of the GI Bill, graduated with a degree in accounting and finance in 1950. After several years with Burlington Mills, he accepted a position with the General Electric Company in Waynesboro, Va, where he moved in 1954. He was a pioneer in the emerging field of electronic computing, rising from programmer to systems analyst to systems designer before retiring from G.E. in 1984. He worked on a volunteer basis for various civic and charitable groups in Waynesboro for some years, moving to Charleston in late 2005 to be with family. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mrs. Viola Turner Dillon, brother John Julian Dillon, and sister Mabel Hubbard. He is survived by his son Robert Jr. (Rob) and Sharon B. Dillon of Charleston, his daughter Victoria D. Carter and Mark Shaughnessy of Richmond, F. Thomas Carter of Waynesboro, and four grandchildren: Katherine Carter, Tyler Carter, Virginia Dillon, and Bryan Dillon. He was a hunter, a fisherman, and a gardener of great skill, profane and violent, sweet and charming, capable of great love but incapable of expressing it, physically tough and emotionally fragile, brilliant and unreasonable, tight with a nickel, fiercely independent and profoundly lost, ever restless, and finally at peace. A memorial service will be conducted at 1:00 PM Saturday, February 21, at McDow Funeral Home in Waynesboro, Va. Memorials may be sent to the World Missions Division at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, 53 Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina, 29401. Please sign our guestbook at Visit our guestbook at
--Charleston Post & Courier, 17/Feb/2009

That was Mr. Dillon, a significant figure during my childhood.

In 1959 when I was four and my parents moved from a rental house to a permanent home, we lived across the street from the Dillons. They had a son almost exactly my age (I was born June 3, 1955; Rob was born June 4) and we hung out together a lot. A lot! I mean, there wasn't much to do in a small Southern factory town in the '60s unless one made one's own entertainment and as a result I spent hours and hours over at Rob's house. I got to know the family fairly well and whether they wanted to or not, they got to know me.

I'm so sorry he's gone.

A few memories:

--Mr. Dillon gave me my very first nickname: "Pateeta." At around age five I became fascinated by the Space Race and often walked around... uh... transmitting telemetry... with a sound best rendered as pateetapateetapateeta.** Apparently, this amused Mr. Dillon to no end and he took to greeting me with a cheery "Hello there, Pateeta!" for years thereafter, well into my college days and long after everyone else except the two of us had forgotten the origin. I kinda liked that ongoing connection with my five-yr.-old self.

--In the twilight of many long, lazy summer evenings Mr. Dillon would sit out on his back stoop with friends, neighbors, and family, play his guitar (sometimes his banjo), and sing any of a number of traditional folk songs. These were my very first experiences with live music and I'll forever associate "The Midnight Special" with him.

--My father worked Saturdays when I was growing up, which meant we didn't go out of town much on weekends except for very special occasions, usually to visit family. Mr. Dillon often included me on numerous day excursions***--fishing trips to nearby rivers (though I sucked as a fisherman), trips to and through the Crozet/Blue Ridge Tunnel, fossil hunting expeditions to Westmoreland State Park, Highland County, Carter's Grove Plantation, and Hampton... all sorts of places. One of my biggest regrets is that though I thanked him, I never told him exactly how much those trips meant to me.

--In 7th grade I had an entry in my Junior High School's Science Fair ("Biostratigraphy of a Silurian/Ordovician Outcropping in Highland Co., Virginia"--I received an Honorable Mention despite incomplete data, dubious conclusions, and stiff competition). My parents had house guests for the weekend and were unable to attend, which made me kind of sad; however, Mr. Dillon did show up and expressed all kinds of interest (above and beyond the merits of my project), even taking an only slightly-posed Polaroid photograph of me explaining things to my 1st Grade teacher. Another regret--I never told him what a tremendous ego boost that was for me.

There's more, but that'll do for now.

Goodbye, Mr. Dillon; my guess is you're in a place where the soil is fertile, the valleys green, the rivers team with fish, the woods are filled with game, the beaches are strewn with giant-sized Miocene shark teeth, and all the people you ever wanted to make music with have reserved you a spot center-stage.

I'm gonna miss you.

* That shoud be David "Stringbean" Akeman of Hee Haw fame, who also had a fascinating life (and a tragic end).

** Oh, c'mon; it's not that weird! Go read Anne Soffee's "Robot's Rules of Order."

*** For which he deserves Sainthood--I was a completely self-absorbed chatterbox during those years and he was astoundingly tolerant of my babblings most of the time.


JSaM said...

A very nice tribute of your own Lee. I knew the Dillon parents only in passing, although I did see Mr. Dillon often at the PO in later years. I remember how shocked I was with Mrs. D's sudden passing. Mr Dillon was always very pleasant and always had a smile and a family update for me.

G. W. Ferguson said...

Thanks, Sam. I really wish I'd made the effort to see him one more time while he was in Waynesboro just to tell him how much these things meant to me, but, well, as Vonnegut would say, "So it goes."