Father’s Day was a bit sad for me on Sunday. Not because I was still in a hospital after 19 days, though I was ready to go home Monday, but because my father and my wife’s father have both been gone to their reward long ago, but I still miss them.
My dad, Robert Ripley, a large and gregarious man with a booming voice and a generous heart, was a career naval officer who spent more than 30 years in proud service of his country, most of them as captain of one ship or another. But he was also a naval briefer for President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and late in his career spent multiple tours in the Pentagon building advanced surface ships.
He was a popular and well respected captain who just missed making admiral, and he gave his family a lifetime of memories — of times spent on board his ships and holiday dinners with the crew, of many cross-country trips by car as we traveled from coast to coast where there were large bodies of water, I enjoyed whole days in the city within the Pentagon and later spending summers going to work with him to my own job in the “puzzle palace.”
Thanks to him, we spent a year in Silicon Valley while it was still lush with apricot and peach orchards, enjoyed six months living in England while he attended British war school, and Vickie and I later got to visit him and my family for a month in Athens, Greece, where he was stationed for three years as the senior representative of the U.S. Navy. But my family, like many military families, also endured nine or 10 months of a time with him absent from our daily life, with no internet then to connect us, as his ships were deployed in combat zones and other assignments.
But his sons and daughter will miss most of all his large laugh and sometimes politically incorrect rich sense of humor, his command bearing and his deep, deep compassion that touched, even embraced, everyone he met — and certainly those he loved.
Vickie’s father, B.J. Corbett, was many inches shorter than my father but was no less a commanding presence in our lives. He, too, had a great sense of humor and a hearty laugh, and a deep reservoir of Christian values, topped off by Nash County common sense. Unlike my father, he was a quiet man who listened more than he spoke. But when he spoke, he had something to say and we listened.
B.J. Corbett, owner of Corbett Oil Company, played an important role in the life of Bailey as his two daughters were growing up and beyond. He was one of the original founders of the Bailey Fire Department and was for many years its chief. He was a proud and active Mason. He was a respected businessman who gave back to the town through the chamber of commerce and other business activities.
“Daddy” also had a great bass voice. In his younger years he sang in a gospel quartet and was a longstanding faithful member of the Bailey United Methodist Church choir. What I most remember and enjoyed were the many evenings after supper when his daughters and he gathered around the family’s upright piano and sang old gospel favorites in all their sweet harmonies.
I was later allowed to sing along with the family, best I could anyhow, and those evenings and the Corbett’s record collection introduced me to the richness of country gospel music as well as the beautiful vocals of barbershop.
Bobby Corbett enjoyed driving the roads of North Carolina, not only professionally on his oil truck but on short family trips throughout the state. In his later years he and his wife, Mary Lou, traveled around the country in their motor home for weeks at a time. I was privileged to go along on some of the family trips, which I found to be wholesome, inquisitive, adventurous, and for me, not a native North Carolinian, educational. They were special times.
The Corbetts were Mother and Daddy to their daughters and soon became so to me, adoptive parents when mine were far away. And through them, their families, and friends, I evolved from an out-of-state UNC graduate to a proud North Carolinian who loves Nash County and the small town life so many of us now fight to preserve.
I feel so fortunate to have had two strong fathers and I miss them both very much. I hope those of you who still have living fathers lavished on them great love and affection on Sunday. I was sad because I can no longer do the same, yet the memories of their lessons, example, and love are legacies time cannot erase.
Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.
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