By Henry Lane Hull
Late one evening when the Elder B.E. was five, I took him with me to do our grocery shopping. Going up one of the aisles I met Bob Gibson, and after we greeted each other, I introduced the B.E. to him, explaining to the B.E. that Mr. Gibson and I were old friends. Bob immediately replied, “Hi, B.E. I’m Bob.” At the time Bob was already past 80, but typically on that occasion, as on every other, he was ageless, and could relate to a five-year-old on equal terms as well as he could to a person of his own generation.
Perhaps a legacy from his service in the United States Marine Corps during the Second World War, Bob was a take charge individual. He was never aggressive in his demeanor, but he was obviously one who could handle any situation that befell him. Moving to the Northern Neck, he and his first wife settled in Weems. I initially met him after her death, when he married Mary Willey, whose late husband had been the postmaster of Irvington.
Mary had recently retired from an illustrious career in local banking in which she had risen to the position of vice president. In the best meaning of the word she was a stickler for perfection in what she did herself and in what she expected from her employees.
She maintained a dress code for the bank’s staff, and set the tone by her own appearance each day. She became famous for leaving the desk in her office to come into the lobby to mingle with the customers. She had a remarkable memory, and enjoyed asking patrons about their families, indicating how well she knew them as friends as well as clients. For many customers a visit with Mary was an integral part of doing one’s banking. That aspect of her work was never a chore for Mary. Her attention to detail was all encompassing. After her retirement she became one of the first women, indeed if not the first, in the Northern Neck to serve on the board of a bank.
In their newfound marriage Bob and Mary made a wonderful life for themselves, travelling, and becoming a genuine couple here in our midst. Mary maintained her home in Irvington, and Bob his in Weems. Theirs was a true merger of interests and personalities, in which each contributed an equal share to the union.
Eventually, Mary retired from the bank board, and gradually her health began to fail. Bob assumed the new role of caregiver with both devotion and compassion, taking pleasure in being of service as Mary’s needs grew. During that time he lost his only daughter, Marilyn, which he accepted as the good Christian gentleman he was.
In his post-Marine Corps life, Bob grew a distinctive, closely trimmed beard, and he dressed the part of a country squire, making a memorable impression on everyone he met. After that initial “I’m Bob” meeting with the B.E. he regularly followed up on his progress, as well as that of the Younger B.E. He really found pleasure in knowing young people and sharing their experiences.
Several years ago as Mary’s health had waned more noticeably, she and Bob reluctantly left the Northern Neck to live in health care facilities in Newport News. There Mary died a year and a half ago, having reached the age of 90 two months previously. This week Bob died at the age of 97. By his presence here he had enhanced the quality of life in the Northern Neck.
Together Mary and Bob presented a lasting memory of two people finding love after bereavement, and pooling their talents to make each other and those they encountered happy. Their long lives might have attested to their success genetically, but more importantly, qualitatively, as they were two abundantly good people.
Mary Massie Willey Gibson, June 11, 1925 – August 16, 2015. R.I.P.
Robert Newton Gibson Sr., October 17, 1919 – January 14, 2017. R.I.P.