by Henry Lane Hull
Often we think of the illustrious figures from the Northern Neck’s historic past without realizing that we have continued to produce commanding individuals in our own time. Robert Delano was one such person. Throughout the 93 years of his life in every circumstance he rose to a profound level of brilliance, whether as a farmer, an executive, a civic leader, or most importantly to him, as a patriot who loved his county.
Robert was born in Richmond County in 1924. He attended local schools, graduated from V. P. I. and served in the United States Army in the Pacific Theater during the Second World War. When he returned from the war he took up his family profession of farming. He worked with Virginia Cooperative Extension in the southern part of the Commonwealth, but the lure of his homeland called him back to the soil of the Northern Neck.
Across the course of his career, Robert held many positions with the American Farm Bureau Federation, rising ultimately to be the national president, directing the organization from its headquarters and visiting farmers and their families throughout the country. Like Cincinnatus, when that period of his life was completed, he returned to his home, indeed his land, in the Northern Neck.
Once back here, Robert devoted much of his time to the study of our history. He served for many years as the Richmond County vice president of the Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society, attending all of the society’s meetings and offering his leadership and knowledge to the executive committee. He readily assumed any task that was asked of him and brought the depth of his widespread experience to the table, always anxious to stimulate in others the love of our past that had characterized his entire life.
Robert took particular interest in the society’s programs to involve young people in learning about the history of the Northern Neck. He wanted to inculcate in the youth the same enthusiasm for history that permeated everything he did. When I hear people speak of “loving the land,” from its organic composition, through its production and sustainability and into the past of those who have lived on it and worked it, I think of Robert. He truly manifested all of those attributes. The land was a very personal matter for him.
In recent years Robert lived in a nursing home in Warsaw. The Elder B.E. and I visited him there earlier in the fall and found him to be as keenly interested in all of the happenings of the Northern Neck as he always had been. We had a particular bond in that we live on land and in a home that once belonged to his collateral ancestor, Pelham Delano.
Over the years, whenever Robert and I met each other, he could be counted upon to ask, “How’s everything down at Uncle Pelham’s?” He was pleased that J. P. and Steve Conley farm our land as they are the grandson and great-grandson of Pelham Delano. He would follow up his first question by asking what crop they had on the land at that time and how it was doing. His grasp of agriculture was encyclopedic.
Throughout his long and stellar career Robert never lost his humility, which was the root of his dignity. He was one who never boasted or promoted himself, for he did not have to do so, as his deeds spoke for themselves. His many years back in the Northern Neck after his distinguished service with the American Farm Bureau afforded him the opportunity to deepen his connection with the land and its peoples, all of which he did with enthusiasm and dedication. When the history of the Northern Neck in our time is written, Robert’s contributions will rank among the most noteworthy. He was the quintessential Virginia Gentleman.
Robert Barnes Delano, July 8, 1924 – December 5, 2017. R. I. P.