Dr. Bob Gilbert, center, rides in a parade during the Liberation Festival in Pilsen in the Czech Republic in 2013. Gilbert passed away at his home in Columbus on Friday at the age of 102. Photo by: Courtesy photo
Dr. Bob Gilbert is pictured next to a portrait of himself in uniform. After active service in World War II, he remained in the U.S. Army Reserves and was called back into active duty during the Korean War. In 1954, he joined the faculty of Mississippi University for Women, where he was a professor emeritus of sociology. Gilbert passed away at his home in Columbus on Friday at the age of 102.
Photo by: Dispatch file photo
August 12, 2017 10:07:47 PM
Dr. Robert "Bob" Gilbert lived more than a century and didn't waste a moment of it, family and friends say.
Gilbert, a decorated World War II veteran and beloved Mississippi University for Women professor, died at his home on Ninth Street South Friday evening. He was 102.
"Dr. Gilbert was a member of what Tom Brokaw called 'the greatest generation' and I can't think of anyone who better embodied the qualities of that generation," MUW President Dr. Jim Borsig said. "His life was long, rich and legendary."
Gilbert was born in Kissimmee, Florida in 1915 and he attained his education in his home state with bachelor's and masters degrees from the University of Florida and his Ph.D from Florida State.
He served in the Army during World War II and taught at the Army's War College during the Korean War, leaving with a rank of Lt. Colonel.
"He was most proud of his service in the Battle of the Bulge," said Betty Bryan, a classmate of Gilbert's only child, Rob, at Lee High. "He fought all over Europe and was awarded two bronze stars. He was real war hero."
After he ended in military career in Korea, Gilbert moved to Columbus in 1954 to accept a teaching position at The W in 1954. He retired in 1980, but continued teaching classes as Professor Emeritus of Sociology well into his 70s.
Although Gilbert had retired before Borsig arrived in 2012, The W president said he was familiar with Gilbert's service to the university.
"He had a great impact on the university," Borsig said. "One thing he pioneered was what they called Saturday College, which was the first effort by The W to make it easier for adults to come back to school and get their educations."
Gilbert and Mary, his wife of 44 years, were known as gracious hosts and active members of their community.
He was one of the founders of Church of The Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in the early 1960s and over the years served in leadership positions at both that church and St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
"He was the quintessential gentleman," Bryan said. "He was gregarious. He loved people and he made so many contributions to his community and his church. He was just one of those rare people that always seemed to be busy doing good."
He could also be persuasive.
"After I became president here, he came to my office, introduced himself and handed me a Rotary membership application," Borsig said. "He sat there and waited for me to fill it out, sign it and write a check. I don't think anybody could say no to Dr. Gilbert."
When he was helping get The Church of the Good Shepherd started, Gilbert was determined to assemble a quality choir and was not above using his position on campus and his ample charm to do it.
"He basically recruited the choir out of the music department at The W," Bryan said.
Gilbert was proud of his military service and thrilled when, in 1995, he was invited by the citizens of Pilsen in the Czech Republic for a celebration honoring the U.S. Soldiers who had liberated the town from the Germans in 1945.
The celebration was the first opportunity for the town to honor its American heroes, the town having been a part of the Soviet Union until 1993 and Gilbert eagerly accepted and returned to many of the annual celebrations that followed. He made his last visit to the festival two years ago at age 100.
"He didn't talk about it much, but it meant a lot to him," Rob said. "I went probably seven or eight times and he went probably 10 to 12 times. One of the towns his company liberated made him a citizen and the people there really embraced him. And given his personality, he made a lot of friends there. I've already gotten phone calls from there since he passed."
Rob, 73, said there were two things that distinguished his dad as a father.
"Starting when I was maybe 3 or 4, dad would set apart time on Sunday afternoon. It started with a half-hour and became an hour, just for me. It was time when I had his entire focus and I could talk about anything I wanted to talk about, do whatever ever I wanted to do. We planned bank robberies, tried to figure out why fish can't breath out of water, just anything."
The other thing was something that others noticed, too.
"Just his kindness to people," he said. "Just observing how good and gentle he was with people. I like to think maybe some of that rubbed off on me, but certainly not all of it."
Mary Gilbert died in 1986 and Gilbert later became the most eligible bachelor in town, Bryan said.
"He didn't lack for ladies asking him to escort them to things," Bryan said. "It's easy to understand why. He was gracious, he was fun and he was such a gentleman."
Borsig said even in the relatively short time he had known Gilbert, he stood apart.
"Dr. Gilbert was a war hero, an educator and someone who gave so much to his church and community," Borsig said. "He lived his life wide open. He was an exceptional man."
Services will be held Monday August 14, 2017 at 12:00 noon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church; burial with U.S. Army Honors will be held Tuesday August 15, 2017 at Lott Cemetery in Waycross, GA. Visitation will be held Sunday August 13, 2017 from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. at Gunter & Peel Funeral Home. Complete arrangements will be announced later by Gunter & Peel Funeral Home & Crematory.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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