The View from 101: Bob Darling

Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson December 15, 2013 13:07

Photo by Suzy HopkinsWho needs a bucket list if you’ve faced the Yankees in Boston’s Fenway Park?  Or put your arms around Marlene Dietrich?

Write a book? Already done that. Lower your golf handicap to 3? Done that. Live to 100? Count as friends the sisters of a future president and a nominee for vice president of the United States? Done, done and done.

In his first 101 years, Sonora resident Bob Darling has done things others only dream of doing. Born in 1912 in the Boston suburb of Jamaica Plain, Bob and his sister, Mary, skied in the New England mountains and skated on nearby Jamaica Pond in the winter. But his real love was the summer game – baseball.

“I was damn good,” he allows. Darling played baseball all four years at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and in the summers he toured New England, playing for professional teams under an assumed name. “That way I wouldn’t lose my eligibility, and I could pay my tuition.”

Cash he and his father made hustling horseshoes from town to town also helped Darling pay for college. How good was the father-son team? “Damn good,” he says, repeating a familiar refrain.

Darling’s father was English, but his mother was Boston Irish and related to the Kennedys. “It wasn’t unusual for JFK’s sisters to come visit my mother,” he says. “They’d come to our house, and the girls would give me a dollar. Maybe that’s how I bought my first horseshoes.”

But it was baseball that kept young Bob’s interest. “I threw a fastball, a curve, and a changeup. Oh, and a spitter.”

Reminded a spitball was illegal, all he says is, “Not to me.”

His coach at Bates was Bill Carrigan, who managed the Boston Red Sox when they won the World Series in 1915 and 1916. Carrigan arranged a tryout with the Sox.

“The Yankees were in town to play a spring training game with Boston,” Darling recalls. “I took the mound in Fenway Park and pitched to hitters from both teams.”

He can’t remember the hitters he faced or how many he struck out, but “I wasn’t offered a contract, I know that.”

Among Darling’s classmates was Edmund Muskie, who became governor of Maine and later, a U.S. senator. He was also Hubert Humphrey’s vice-presidential running mate in 1968, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 and Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state in 1980. “Eddie Muskie wrote to me quite often after college,” Darling says of his late friend.

While at Bates, Darling met and married his first wife, Elizabeth. They had one son, Robin, who died a few years ago.

Shortly before World War II, Darling left a job teaching high school in New York to join the Army. He was assigned to the 42nd Infantry “Rainbow Division,” named for the many state National Guard units in its membership and its signature uniform patch.

Because of his prowess on the diamond, Darling spent much of his Army stint pitching for the 42nd’s  baseball team. But he was with the unit when it crossed the Rhine and when it liberated more than 30,000 prisoners at Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945.

“I was in the camp, but I didn’t stay long,” Darling says. “I saw what was going on and said to the guys I was with, ‘Come on fellas, let’s get the hell out of here.’ ”

USO shows did a great deal to bolster the morale of soldiers serving overseas, and Marlene Dietrich, born in Berlin but a U.S. citizen and outspoken Nazi foe, was a troop favorite. The fetching songstress returned to her native Germany to headline a show late in the war.

“Somehow I was the guy chosen to participate with Marlene,” Darling remembers, a smile brightening his face.

In the show he brought a chair onstage. Dietrich sauntered over, put one foot up on the chair and wrapped her arms around Darling.

“When her foot came up on the chair, her whole skirt disappeared, and there was nothing there but a long, beautiful leg,” Darling says. “Every guy in the audience went nuts.”

The GI Bill paid Darling’s way through New York University, from which he earned a master’s degree in 1947 and a doctorate in education in 1954. That was the year he published a tome with the daunting title, An Identification and Description of Group Guidance Procedures for Teachers in Secondary Schools.

Abandoning a practice that forbade former NYU students from becoming instructors, the university hired Darling, whose classes were soon overflowing with students.


Bob and his first wife, Elizabeth

Next he served as Delaware’s Director of Education. About the time he and Elizabeth divorced, Darling moved west to Sacramento for a job with the California Department of Education, where he worked until his retirement.

Through his job in Sacramento, Darling met Fritzi Hender, who worked in the Tuolumne County Schools Office. He and Fritzi married and moved to Sonora.

“I played a lot of golf once I retired,” Bob says. “Four days a week, generally.” Check off low handicap on the list of accomplishments.

Fritzi passed away in 2003, and today Bob doesn’t get out much, spending most of his time in bed. He often listens to the radio, tuning in San Francisco Giants games during the baseball season. Macular degeneration has taken his sight, but not his sense of humor nor his perspective on life.

What’s the most valuable thing he has learned during his 101 years? “When to keep my mouth shut.”

He takes a little longer to decide the most important thing he has ever done, but concludes it was getting an education. “I had to work my butt off to do it. Oh, I had help from the GI Bill, but a lot of it was my hard work.”

What accounts for his longevity? Darling says there’s no secret to it. His father lived to 99 and his mother to 97. Sister Mary recently died at 97.

“Reaching the age of 101 just happened,” he offers. “I just do the things I’ve always done.”

Among them: eating a half can of sardines in oil every day, dipping his bread in olive oil, and making fruits and vegetables part of his diet. “Bob takes no medication,” says nurse and caregiver Lisa Hunt, “and he has the blood pressure of a teenager.”

Does he ever get lonely?

“I don’t even think about that,” he answers, adding that episodes from his long and rich life occupy much of his time.

“Maybe they’re dreams or just scenes I play in my head. But I have all kinds of adventures. They’re very clear. Sometimes I’m coaching, sometimes I’m a soldier in a battle. I have 100 years of memories.”

Is there anything he wishes he’d done? His answer befits a man who seems to have done it all: “I can’t think of a thing.”


Copyright © 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Chace Anderson
By Chace Anderson December 15, 2013 13:07
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