The American Chronicles: The Rob from Richmond Story

It was a windy day as we wound down through the marshland and crossed the bridge to Chincoteague Island, Va. The island and its barrier island Assateague are known for the wild ponies roaming the island’s wetlands. They inspired Marguerite Henry to write the true-to-life children’s novels “Misty of Chincoteague” and “Stormy, Misty’s Foal.” The ponies are descended from those who swam to shore after the wreck of a Spanish galleon. Today, they are preserved by a registry and an annual pony penning where “saltwater cowboys” round up a number of ponies and swim them across the channel from Assateague to Chincoteague for an auction. Misty has made Chincoteague famous, but there is much more.

Visiting Chincoteague is like taking a step back into the 1960s. There are quaint shops. The people are friendly and down home, pretty much unaffected by the thousands of tourists who visit each summer to see the ponies and experience the beach on Assateague. There is a great wildlife trail and bike path that serpentines through Assateague where you can see many types of birds and, when they are out grazing, the ponies. Chincoteague has become a “go to” beach getaway for Chris and I over the years because it’s only about a four-hour drive from home. We usually have stayed at a friend’s who rents her house to us. This time, we settled into our travel van at the Jellystone Park campground which is among the most beautiful campgrounds in our travels to date. It was there that I met Rob from Richmond.

Rob is a Vietnam veteran whose Air Force experience led him into a 27-year career keeping the Fed Ex jets in the air. He had many fantastic experiences during that time with presidents and celebrities, “a great time,” he surmised. We exchanged some brief stories, but there is a much deeper side to Rob and his wife Mary. Their son Jeff was discovered to have brain cancer when he was seven years old. Through treatment, it went into remission, but sadly, it returned by the time he was 10, and he died shortly thereafter. Rob recalled how his son was a Kansas City Chiefs fan at the time Joe Montana was playing there. Jeff had written to Montana, and they struck up a friendship. Joe encouraged Jeff with many mementos from the Chiefs, and Jeff, Mary and Rob even attended Joe’s Hall of Fame induction in Canton, Ohio.

As we talked, I could tell that Rob was a follower of Christ. I asked him how Jeff’s death affected his relationship with God. Without hesitation, Rob replied without hesitation, “It drew me closer than ever.”  He explained how he and his Labrador Retriever began to visit kids in hospitals with various illnesses to bring some joy during difficult times. Rob said he knew that Jeff was with Jesus and that they all would be reunited someday. These days, Rob and Mary travel and camp whenever they can. He said that despite what you hear on the news, “There are a lot of wonderful people across the country.” As advised in 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” That embodies Rob from Richmond.

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Bill Wilson