Gregory Pettigrew (etherial) wrote,
Gregory Pettigrew

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Robert Stuart Pettigrew, Sr.

My father's father died last night. Because of age differences (my parents were almost 40 when I was born), I didn't really much chance to get to know my other grandparents. Dap was different, though. Over the past 7 years (since my mother's mother died), I've gotten to know my last grandparent much better as a person. There are so many little details I've already forgotten. He gave me a love of history and the understanding that everyone has to take an active role in building the future.

In 1918, his parents divorced, and he eventually came to live with newspaperman Ned Waterbury, his mother's new husband. Grandpa Ned was influential in the creation of Fort Ontario, the only U.S. refugee camp for Jews in WWII. My father had an older sister Elizabeth and 6 younger half-siblings, including a half-sister who died at 16 when she fell off the back of a (slow-moving) truck. One day, while Lake Ontario was having an infamous three-day blow (windstorm), he tripped on something while walking to a friend's house. When he entered his friend's house, a horrendous smell followed him. The thing he had tripped on was a skunk, and the wind was blowing so hard, he hadn't noticed the smell.

In 1936, my grandfather transferred from Colgate to Ohio State College. He liked Colgate's track program, but the school at the time was a feeder for various Graduate Programs, and my grandfather wasn't interested in postgraduate education. On his first day at Ohio State, his best friend loaned him his car to tour the campus. Stopping at the business college building that my grandfather would attend classes in, a beautiful brunette came bouncing out of the building and plopped into the passenger seat. When she saw my grandfather, she loudly proclaimed "You're not Sam!" Sam, my grandfather's friend, was her next-door neighbor growing up, and, in that way that kids do, my grandfather and the young woman became an item.

Eventually they both graduated, and my grandfather moved to New York City. He was very lonely without Ruth. They'd talk on the phone for hours, but eventually they came to the conclusion that it just wasn't enough, and they got married. People keeping track of the years will know that it's 1942 by now, and my grandfather, having mandatory ROTC training from attending Ohio State, enlisted in an officer training program out of Quonset, RI.

While he was at Quonset, my grandmother was pregnant with my father, and, when he was born, my grandfather received a Special Merit for Euphemism. Thus my father received the increasingly inapt nickname "Cub", from being the first baby born to the men on base. One of those men would eventually become President Richard Milhouse Nixon.

During the War, my grandfather served as the ground commander for what would become the U.S.' first and only night B-24 bombing squadron. His job was to manage the upkeep of the planes, give orders from Command, and other important but boring-for-pilots tasks. He was briefly the highest (only) U.S. Naval Officer in Gibraltar. They used to check their watches by intercepting and decoding the messages sent out by Hitler's Spanish spies. He scoured the English Channel for U-boats prior to D-Day, and not a single ship was lost to submarine attack.

After the war, my grandfather worked in various sales companies. He worked insurance for a while, but apparently wasn't heartless enough. He wasn't willing to push the most lavish packages on his friends. My grandmother worked as a model (I told you she was beautiful), making about the same as he did per month, but with way fewer hours. Eventually they moved to West Hartford, Connecticut, where he founded the Pettigrew Company, helping manufacturers of rubber insulation, heat syncs, and other small parts find companies that needed such parts built.

He was a member (and occasional board member) of the Hartford Golf Club for the rest of his life. When I was born, he walked through Newton-Wellesley Hospital for hours with my brother. He danced the funky chicken at his 50th wedding anniversary. He traveled the world, including Japan, Australia, annual trips to Florida, and all over Europe. He rode in a hot air balloon for his 80th birthday. He had both knees replaced and went in for extra physical therapy. When my grandmother died in 1997, he moved around until he found an apartment complex for seniors that was a block away from the golf club. He even dated a woman 6 years his junior (scandalous!).

When he was in his 80s, he got a nasty sunburn that permanently bleached most of his right arm. Unfortunately, he forgot the lesson from this wound. See, when he went in to see the doctor, the guy took one look at it and pronounced: "Too late". When he was diagnosed with carcinoidal cancer last fall, he took his chemo, but didn't report the diarrhea that ultimately did him in. It killed his appetite, and, in the end he looked, well, exactly like someone who had been dying of starvation for six months. It's a gruesome detail, but when I saw him on Wednesday, his calves were about as thick as my wrist, and the rest of his legs not much moreso.

He had 2 children, 6 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchildren (so far), and I'm very glad he had the chance to meet tpau a few months back. I will miss him terribly.
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