MEMORIES OF COMMUNICATIONS SECTION ROBERT QUIN FORD, Jr., KILLED IN A MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT IN ITALY IN 1943, BY HIS COUSIN JUDITH MITCHELL
RQ was born into a middle class family in the small town of Lowell N.C., a cotton mill town. He lived on the main street very close to the heart of town (post office, drug store, market and gas station). There were three protestant churches on the street where he lived and our house was next door to the Baptist pastor’s home and Church. But his dad was an Elder of the Presbyterian Church, as was RQ when he came of age. The Church and the school, a block away, was the main life of most families at that time. His father was the Purchasing Agent for the Mill and his mother was a former school teacher, also my dad’s sister. I lived with them from 1929 to 1939 because my mother died in my infancy.
In about 1930, his father suffered a fatal heart attack while driving home with RQ from a fishing trip. RQ, 12 at the time, was able to maneuver himself under the wheel and continue driving the 3 miles to the local druggist, where most emergencies were taken at that time, and where he was pronounced dead. This was a blow, during the Depression, since his sister was just beginning college (following in her mother’s footsteps).
He immediately, as was the custom then, assumed the position of head of the family. He became an Eagle Scout and among other accomplishments had raised animals, crops (peanuts) and camped out alone. He quickly became expert at hunting and fishing, gigging for frogs, and when he became of age, went on annual deer hunts with a number of the town’s dignitary, as his father had done.
He always had a dog. The first was Toby, an Eskimo Spitz stray he begged as a small child to keep, and who became a faithful member of the family for 17 years, catching 2 intruders by the seat of the pants. Later, he kept bird dogs, pointers, and in those difficult years, kept us supplied with rabbits, squirrels, quail and frogs. Once, on a hunting trip his beloved Nancy was bitten by a rattler. He cut and drained the leg wound and after carrying her home, sat up all night with her putting butter on the wound. He always seemed to know just what to do.
During high school he worked at the local Gulf gas station after school and on Saturdays, making $2.00 a week. Now and then he would put a quarter in my piggy bank. He loved basketball and being quite tall (6 ft. 5 in) was quite a star and often took me in the evenings to the games. I was 8 years his junior, but occasionally he did take me fishing with him. I adored him as he could do everything. He was also a tease. Once on a fishing trip he killed a water moccasin as it slithered up the riverbank and brought it home and tied a string around its head and he and I hid behind the hedge that bordered the street and waited for neighborhood girls to walk by and slowly pulled it in front of them. To his delight, they screamed and ran. He often swam across a river that he finally admitted to his horrified mother that he had no idea of its depth. She worried that he would get cramps and drown but he said if he got a cramp he would just turn over on his back and float until it eased.
The Baptist minister, who lived next door, often went hunting with him and remarked that he was he only person he knew who could hit a bird in flight from a moving car window.
He was very close to his mother and sister. After high school he worked in a local hosiery mill and always came into his mother’s room after his shift to share his day with her.
In 1939 he drove himself to the World’s Fair alone. He was thrilled at everything he saw, taking pictures and talking about the exciting things he had seen there. He was especially interested in all the things predicted for the future.
His greatest passion was flying. He obtained a pilot’s license as soon as was possible. In 1941 as he volunteered for the Air Force, he was sorely disappointed to learn that he could not fly because he could not fit in the cockpit. However, he felt honored to serve with the ground crew and his many experiences through Africa, Sicily and Italy were faithfully chronicled in regular letters home. He frequently sent gifts, I particularly remember white kid gloves. His mother and sister kept a map always before them of his whereabouts and regularly wrote and mailed packages to him, to the delight of his buddies.
We were told that he was killed while carrying a message to the front lines when his vehicle struck a land mine.
He and his dad were prominent members of the town and very respected by the citizens of Lowell, so news of his death was devastating. His mother received countless letters from his comrades and commanding officers and, in later years, visits from those who survived and had been impressed with his character and moral fiber.
I have attempted to capture the essence of this, by anyone’s standards, remarkable young man–his enthusiasm, generosity, outgoing and friendly personality and moral character. It was as if he wanted to experience everything possible during his short life.
Judith Mitchell, now age 96
Jan. 31, 2023