June 25, 2016 11:04:21 PM
Last Saturday I went to a very special birthday party. Dr. Robert I. Gilbert, retired professor of sociology at MSCW (now Mississippi University for Women), celebrated his birthday -- number 101! Not only that, but he rose to address his guests and welcomed them to the party, which was held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Columbus. In addition, he had only recently returned from the Czech Republic, where he went with his son, Rob, and was honored as one of the Americans who liberated the town of Pilsen during World War II. He is treated as the hero he is by its citizens today, who either remember or have been taught what the American soldiers did.
(It is significant that some of these members of what Tom Brokaw called "the greatest generation" are still at it, having recently established college scholarships for descendants of soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which was crucial to that operation.)
Yet the story of the day was the vital longevity of this former war hero. Although his hearing is not as sharp as it once was, his mind is. I have known him for many years, and I have never yet heard anyone ask him the secret of his longevity, but I am sure many people have. What is it?
Of course he leads an active life. I have seen him many times going and coming from the Phillips YMCA where he went regularly for exercise. He may still go there. I am not sure.
He has been active socially as well. He enjoys going out for dinner. When his wife Mary was alive they entertained at home often and beautifully. Mary was famous for her eggnog at Christmas and her Lady Baltimore cake. (In fact, we had that kind of cake at the birthday party.) They were the first of our friends ever to invite our three young daughters to a "grown-up" party, and the girls not only behaved -- which was something Doug and I had worried about -- but they were quite poised. It just goes to show that if you expect a certain kind of behavior, children will often oblige. Bob and Mary knew this. The little girls were flattered to be included and still remember it.
He has shared his personal philosophy with many. He says he starts each day saying, "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." There can hardly be a better or healthier attitude than that.
He has also said not to spend much time in worry and certainly do not start the day with it. He recommends setting aside a certain time to "worry" and to limit such thoughts to that time. That practice makes for a more pleasant day.
These are bits of advice I have known him to pass along. But I have observed other practices.
He is a consummate gentleman. Politeness is a form of kindness. Bob is always smoothly polite, always putting other people at ease.
He maintains an interest in the affairs of the day, national and local. He is articulate in expressing his opinions, but always polite if his ideas differ from yours. He would have made a good politician; and, looking at some we have, we would have been much better off, though I have differed with his ideas sometimes.
He has not lived these many years without facing some health issues, but he just does what is needed to conquer them and gets on with his life.
Evidently he has been blessed with good genes, but in the many years I have known him, I have seen him lead an active and considerate life, which has to be healthy. At one time he was also a personal counselor and a popular and entertaining after-dinner speaker. Nice as he is, he is a fierce bridge player. My husband Doug was in the Army Reserve with him, and I know they were not above a number of pranks, either.
He has earned the admiration of many. That is why I felt especially and personally honored to help celebrate such a special birthday.
That is what today's column is for. Happy, happy birthday, Bob!
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in and lives in Columbus.
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.