I can’t believe it’s been ten years. My grandfather, Dr. Robert Lee Wilson, Sr., passed away on August 11, 2006. I last saw and spoke to him a few days before that. I still think about him almost every day, and I thought I would use today’s post to share some of my favorite family stories and memories of Grampy (as his grandkids called him).
Grampy was born March 7, 1917, to a mother who had a bachelor’s degree in mathematics (a rarity for women at the time) and a father who was a college math professor because he couldn’t support the family solely through his passion for farming. Grampy spent most of his childhood working on the family farm in Gainesville, Florida, and looking after his three younger brothers. He studied math at the University of Florida, and he was involved in the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity there. He invited a friend from high school, who was attending Agnes Scott College, to be his date to a fraternity event, but her parents wouldn’t allow her to go since she had already taken another trip that semester, so she suggested her friend Anna Katherine “Kitten” Fulton go instead. Kitten Fulton ended up as my grammy. They married in 1940 and were together until Grammy’s death in 1993.
Grampy taught math at the college level for decades, but he loved to teach anything to anyone. Once when he came to visit when I was about four, he helped me make a Jacob’s ladder out of plywood, ribbon, and glue. When I was in first grade, after he had moved back to Ohio, he came into my classroom, once to talk about his trip to Antarctica and once to give a lesson on triangles. From the time he moved back to Ohio until shortly before he passed, he was involved with a program called Grandparents in the Classroom at a local elementary school.
My grampy loved to travel, and he instilled that love in all of his children and grandchildren. Because he was on the cutting edge of computer technology in the 1960s, he received grants to help set up computer science programs at colleges in India and Nigeria. When he went to India, my grammy and the kids (minus my oldest uncle, who was already married) met him there and then traveled back to the U.S. via multiple stops in Asia and Europe. Grampy’s grant for Nigeria covered two years, so he, Grammy, my aunt, and my dad moved there for the duration of his contract, and they got to visit several other African countries while they were there. He also got to teach for a semester in Australia, and after he retired, he and Grammy and later he and my aunt Kathy took many trips to other countries for fun. In fact, on his last birthday, when he turned 89, Grampy and Aunt Kathy flew to China for a two-week adventure.
When I was born, Grammy and Grampy lived in a big house on a big hill in Lexington, Virginia. One room in the house was full of Grampy’s model trains. When he moved to a retirement home in Ohio, he didn’t take the trains with him, but he took me, my sister, our parents, and Aunt Kathy on a train ride with the Worthington Historical Railroad almost every year. Those trips meant getting up super early in the morning for a very long day, but they were lots of fun, and Grampy was so happy to be sharing his love of trains with us. He loved baseball, particularly the Atlanta Braves, and he loved taking us to games. He took the family to a Braves vs. Reds game in Cincinnati for my sixteenth birthday, and the very last time I saw him, he was watching a Braves game on TV from his hospital bed. Grampy loved the arts, taking Dad and me to the Columbus Symphony for years, and he came to all of the dance performances, plays, and musicals my sister and I were in.
The week before Memorial Day in 2006, Grampy fell and broke his hip. He had a surgery to fix it, and he was able to get around with a walker and even travel to a family reunion in Florida that summer, but he was in an awful lot of pain. It turned out that Grampy was part of the very small percentage of people who don’t have good results with that particular surgery the first time, so in late July or early August, he had another one. During that time, the doctors discovered a problem with his heart, and they decided to go in and fix it without giving him time to heal from the second hip surgery, and it was all too much for him at the age of 89. I never called Grampy on the phone very much, but when I was in New York City for a People to People program on the arts that June, I decided to call him while I had some downtime, since I knew he was stuck at home, recuperating. He seemed so happy to hear from me, to hear about the people I had met and the things I was doing, and I was and still am so glad I made that phone call.
I was about to start my senior year of high school when Grampy passed, and a little over a year later, when I was a freshman in college, I was watching one of the last Braves games of the season on MLB.TV in my dorm room. The Braves were playing the Phillies, who had been leading their division solidly but were starting to slip in the last few days of the regular season. In this particular game, the Braves came back from a huge deficit and won the game on a crazy play at home plate, cutting the Phillies’ lead in the division (and as Braves fans, we did NOT like the Phillies). As soon as the game was over, I thought, “I should call Grampy and see if he saw that!”…and then, of course, I remembered that I couldn’t call him. I felt so weird for a while after that. I haven’t had any experiences like that since, but there have been plenty of times I’ve wished I could talk to Grampy about current events, get his opinion on going to and then leaving grad school, introduce him to my boyfriend (whom I think Grampy would really like). But I am so grateful for the years I got to spend with Grampy, that I got to live near him for eleven years of my childhood and learn so much from him.
I love you, Grampy. I miss you.