The Remarkable Life of Robert (“Bob”) Charles Macomber
Bob Macomber was born to Stanley (a civil engineer) and Mary Macomber at Massillon, Ohio, on January 13, 1920. He grew up in the hard times of the Depression. His father’s steel construction business went through periods of boom and bust, but his dad never gave up, ultimately building his business, Macomber Inc., into a large and successful corporation.
A voracious reader with a fascination of history and world affairs, Bob had a dream of someday being a foreign correspondent. By the time he was fourteen, he was pen-pals with fellow boy scouts in Europe and Latin America. He wrote to them in their languages, and they wrote to him in English. Soon, he was fluent in French, Spanish, and German, and getting reports from his teenage friends about the sinister happenings in 1930s Europe. At sixteen, he landed a job at a local newspaper, writing a weekly column titled “Your Foreign Correspondent,” passing along information his friends were sending him.
At Denison University, he was the editor of the newspaper, associate editor of the yearbook, and a track star, graduating in three years as a Phi Beta Kappa honor student. At Denison he fell in love with Janie Collord and they married soon after she graduated in 1942. By then, America was plunged into World War Two. Bob became a civil engineer in steel construction, helping the U.S. Navy build Norfolk Naval Station into the largest naval base in the world—amazingly, his buildings are still in use. After that, he built tanks, trucks, and artillery shells for use by the Russian Army against the Nazis. His reputation as an engineer at Macomber Inc. rapidly spread around the country.
At the end of the war in 1945, he and Janie finally took their honeymoon trip, riding by bus all the way from Ohio to central Mexico. They loved it there, but their hearts were really stolen when they ended up in Cuba shortly afterward. For the rest of his life, Cuba and her people would remain deep in Bob’s soul. These international trips became the basis for his very successful foreign business projects in Latin America, and in 1948 they soon extended to Europe. By 1958, his company was one of the largest in the United States, with projects across the world. He added Portuguese and Italian to his languages, and was awarded several structural steel design patents. In 1959, he was given the honor of being selected as a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was only 39 years old.
Also in the 1950s, Bob decided to become a pilot, another long held dream. Starting out in a Piper Cub in 1953, he flew for the next 35 years, gaining his Instrument Flight and Multi-Engine ratings, and flying various larger aircraft on business trips. He flew across the United States many times, as well as the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Cuba, Mexico, and down into Central America.
By 1962, Macomber Inc. had been sold by his father who then retired, and Bob Macomber made a bold decision—he and Janie would move their family of four children, two dogs and a bird, to a little-known sleepy little rural place called Southwest Florida. The following year, they established a home and a new steel business, which he proceeded to build up, against all odds, into another very successful national and international steel construction company. For the next 25 years Bob, assisted by Janie and two of his sons, Dick and Larry, ran the company out of Fort Myers, Florida. He continued traveling to projects around the world, now including the Middle East, where he learned basic Arabic.
In the 1980s Bob Macomber retired, and together with Janie traveled the world to see their many friends. Out of curiosity, he learned Mandarin Chinese and how to build and program computers. The ensuing years were good ones, but in the mid-1990s Janie came down with Alzheimer’s. Bob stayed by his wife’s side for the rest of her years, until she passed away in 2009, after 67 years of marriage. In 2012, at the age of 92, Bob’s health began a steady decline with the onset of dementia. He was cared for by his son Robert (and Robert’s wife Nancy), and his Haitian-American friend and caretaker Francoise Morisseau. On September 26, 2017, he died at the age of 97. He left behind 36 descendants in four generations.
Throughout his life, Bob Macomber was a man of honor and principals. He judged people not by their color, religion, money, or politics, but by their character. He stood up against foreign tyrants and thugs; and despised hypocrisy, racism, and demagoguery here in this country. At a time when other Americans shunned them, Bob reached out to help immigrants to this nation from Cuba, Mexico, the Bahamas, El Salvador, Haiti, and other countries. All of them became productive, patriotic Americans. Their families now number in the hundreds, and they remember with gratitude the name of the man who helped them live their dream, Bob Macomber.
Yes, it was a remarkable life, indeed.