February 6, 2001
Bob Elliott has been a friend of mine since the days long ago when both of us were part of what used to be the younger generation. Through the years our paths have taken vastly different twists and a lot of things have happened to both of us, but in one way or another our lives seemed to intertwine. Bob died last Wednesday night at his home in Oklahoma City. I am going to miss his frequent phone calls and his occasional visits in Perry, to which he seemed to be permanently bonded.
We grew up together in the local Presbyterian church and we were classmates at Perry High School. I have photos of birthday parties from pre-kindergarten years when he and I were either guests or the honorees. Bob was always taller than the rest of us because he came from a family of big men. Even when we were knee-pants wearing kids, he towered over the rest of us. He played trumpet and baritone in the PHS band and was selected for the role of drum major because he was tall (6’ 4”) and a born leader. His brother, Bill Elliott Jr., who later became mayor, also was drum major. The oldest of the three Elliott sons, Forrest, was a member of the first marching band organized at PHS. Bob went on to the University of Oklahoma and served as drum major of the Pride of Oklahoma band for four years. He did an outstanding job.
During our days at PHS, Bob and I, together with our mutual friend and classmate, Charles Lamb, formed an ensemble comedy group and offered ourselves as performers at assemblies in the school auditorium. (As I recall, we had one request to appear, but none after that.) Our specialty was a parody of the hilarious Jack Benny comedy that aired occasionally on a national radio network, before the days of TV. Jack called his version “Buck Benny Rides Again.” Lacking originality, we called our skit “Huck Denny Rides Again.” Bob played the part that was originated by Jack Benny, and Charles was his sidekick, the role played on radio by funnyman Andy Devine. I had the dubious pleasure of writing the scripts, but most of the dialogue was ad lib. Bob and Charles were witty and equal to the task of improvisation, which made my job easier. The other kids seemed to enjoy it, even if we were never asked to do an encore, let alone a sequel. (By a sad coincidence, I learned only Saturday that Charles died almost one year ago in Seattle after a bout with cancer.)
During World War II, Bob was selected to become a cadet at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. If he had graduated, he probably would have become a general, but Bob had other things on his mind. He was in love with a dark-haired beauty, Mary Louise Byrd, who lived here briefly when we were still in high school. They wanted to get married, but West Point cadets at that time were not permitted to take a bride. Bob resigned, married Mary Louise, and joined the Navy as an enlisted man. Their marriage endured all these years, and they were still sweethearts when he passed away the other night at their comfortable home in Oklahoma City. He has had numerous medical problems through the years.
Bob and I both wound up at duty stations on the island of Oahu during the war. He had become a Navy cook on a floating dry dock tied up at Pearl Harbor, and I was on the Stars & Stripes staff in downtown Honolulu. The best part of that coincidence was that I was privileged to eat a lot of the Navy’s fried chicken dinners on Sundays with Bob.
Among the bitter pills he had to swallow, perhaps the worst was the death of a son just a few years ago. That was a serious blow. As stated at the outset, Bob never lost his interest in the welfare of this community, and it was “home” to him although he had been in the engineering business in Oklahoma City for something like 50 years. I have many more memories of experiences shared with Bob Elliott and I will cherish them, but I will miss him greatly. My heart goes out to Mary Louise and their two surviving children.