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Jeff Whitten: Remembering Bobby Carpenter
editor's notes

Say you’re required to put together a resume for placement in the afterlife and you’re looking for a template.

You could go far and not find one better than that put together by the late Robert Kenneth Carpenter.

Carpenter, known as Bobby – and if ever a name fit the man, his did – was one of those people you don’t run across every day but wish you did.

He was by every account I could find a kind, funny and gentle man, and a gentleman in the truest sense of the word.

More than that, he was an integral part of a time and place when Richmond Hill was less crowded and everybody really did know everybody else. And we’ll get to that old Richmond Hill in a minute. That Bobby was so roundly liked and respected is a testament to his virtues, one of which was plain old humility. I didn’t know the man was a Korean War veteran or served on the school board until I read his obituary, Bobby not being one to toot his own horn.

Bobby was, of course, a member of his generation, one that walked the walk without worrying so much about talking the talk.

Which is why I think it’s important for people in this community to know a little something about Bobby, who was born Oct. 20, 1931 in Keller.

We share the same birthday, by the way, though I came along some 30 years later and have a much lesser resume than Bobby, was delivered nearly 90 years ago by a midwife, a woman he called Aunt Affie for the rest of his life, his son said.

She was Black. Bobby was White. More on that in a second, as well.

Bobby graduated from Richmond Hill High School in 1948 at a time when there were only 11 grades, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1950. He served aboard the U.S.S. Twining, a destroyer, which was part of a task force that had a number of combat deployments during the Korean War. He got out of the Navy in 1954, then worked for a railroad until he was hired as Richmond Hill’s postmaster in 1964. It was a less crowded place back then. According to the 1970 census, the city’s population was 826. By the time Bobby retired in 1990, there were more than 2,900 residents – and nearly 14,000 residents were estimated to live in Richmond Hill in 2019, and that number doesn’t take into account the tens of thousands who live in its vicinity. What was once an unspoiled small town is now a sprawling suburban mix of subdivisions and strip malls.

But that’s another tangent.

There are stories told by the Rev. Dr. Karen Boles, who is Black, of how Bobby, who served as president of the Parent Teacher Association, worked with her father, Mr. Leslie Boles, and longtime local educator Francis Meeks to help integrate local schools in the 1960s, and as PTA president asked Leslie to give an invocation at a meeting – which apparently shocked a few of the less reconstructed among the membership.

That was the basic fairness in Bobby, according to his son, Russ Carpenter, a local high school government teacher and Richmond Hill’s current mayor. He said the two men had known each other since they were teens working at the Ford Sawmill.

Not long afterward, Bobby, by then the town’s postmaster, helped console Leslie when he lost his son, Harry Lee Boles, in 1969 in Vietnam.

Karen Boles told me that story during a Memorial Day ceremony at J.F. Gregory Park some years ago – and more recently, Russ Carpenter recalled that “when Army reps came to deliver the news to her father they stopped by the post office, “Bobby went with them to the Boles’ home three times before Mr. Leslie was home. Daddy always said he needed to be the one to tell Mr. Boles about Harry Lee.”

There’s more.

Bobby was appointed to finish out a term on the Bryan County School Board, and at one point was with a group who met with then-Gov. Jimmy Carter to ask him to help get federal funding for the schools due to Fort Stewart’s impact on classrooms. Carter jokingly asked if Bryan County was in Georgia.

“Bobby had no use for Jimmy Carter after that, and didn’t vote for him in 1976 or ’80,” his son said.

And there’s more.

Bobby was president of the Bryan Neck Cemetery Association, a job he held for 50 years and one he loved doing. He also served years on the Georgia Salt Water Advisory Board where, according to family members, Bobby voted against creel limits and came as close as he ever did to breaking a law when the state began imposing size and number limits on fish. Bobby didn’t, his son said, but he came close.

That he didn’t break the law was perhaps due to Bobby’s faith. Baptized at 13, Bobby was a lifelong member of First Baptist Church of Richmond Hill, and served as its treasurer for 25 years. That, his son Russ said, reveals a certain constancy in Bobby.

“Everything he did, he did for decades. It’s no surprise that he and Mom were married for 64 years. I never heard them argue, by the way,” Russ said.

As for today’s fast paced Richmond Hill, well, Bobby had an early hand in that too, because around 1962, Bobby was in the Jaycees – a group instrumental in getting Richmond Hill incorporated as a city.

His son still has that gavel Bobby used as president of that fine civic organization.

“I use (the gavel) as mayor,” Russ recalled. “It’s really one of the few sentimental items that I have.”

And you know what. Even though I’ve been messing up this paper in one capacity or another since 2006, I didn’t meet Bobby until 2018 when I was invited to attend a meeting of the famous DP Club at Plum’s Deli.

There, he and friends such as Doug Kinnard, Wayne Leatherwood, Carroll Hardy, Dave Barre, R.B. Bashlor, Tommy Darieng, Theron Darieng, Paul Grizzard and former Mayor Richard Davis regularly had breakfast on Wednesdays and discussed the news of the day. I’d say my visit with those fellows and opportunities to stop by their semi-regular fish fries co-hosted with the Liar’s Club have been a highlight of my quarter century or so in this business.

And Bobby, well, he reminded me so much in so many ways of my own father, who meant the world to me and passed in 2019.

In short, it was a joy to spend time with Bobby. I think I can safely say a lot of local folks felt the same way.

I also suspect there’s a lesson one can take from the trueness of men like Bobby, who came along on the heels of the Greatest Generation of World War II and were pretty special in their own right, I just don’t know how to put it into words.

And that doesn’t matter anyhow. Maybe the best thing we can do is try to follow their example, I.e., you don’t have to talk the talk. Just be kind, and walk the walk.

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