WYCKOFF - CRAIG, Robert B. - “With a background similar to that of most pre-school children, Robert displayed particular interest in a rubber ball. Throughout grammar school, his one ambition was to be a baseball player. Sitting in a classroom for endless days seemed an awful shame. When he heard the school bell ring for dismissal, all thoughts of school work flew like a bird from a gilded cage from his mind.”
Those words were written by young Robert, known widely as Bob, then a 17-year-old college freshman in the fall of 1950. In the same essay, Bob described the beginnings of his love of competition as “the phenomenon to be known as Robert’s one track mind.” He discovered baseball, then basketball. In his 20s, he took up bowling. The bowling teams he joined won league championships, often with Bob’s scoring at or near the top. Later on, he gravitated to golf and shooting pool. Where he learned to talk trash so bitingly is anyone’s guess.
Throughout it all, he found the time to make and maintain friendships inside and outside of work.
But his chatter on various fields of competition was not a manifestation of arrogance. Rather, he had supreme faith in himself and confidence in his own abilities. Why not? He rose early (7:30 was “sleeping in”), worked hard, trained extensively, thought deeply, studied enthusiastically, exuded a healthy stubbornness, nurtured relationships, expressed his curiosities, and sought constant improvement. “Sometimes,” he wrote of his sporting endeavors, “his mother would ask him if he thought it was worth getting home late for supper every night. His mother was very considerate to keep his supper warm every night.”
It proved to be worth it, as his high school baseball and basketball teams earned great success. His ambidexterity and soft, but strong hands made him a valuable asset to his teams. Bob even had a pro baseball tryout during which the club’s scout, impressed with his talent, called him over for a chat about his future. But it turned out that he had misrepresented his age in order to try out. He was told to come back the next year.
But life took a turn for Bob. Early in his senior basketball season, he fell ill and was diagnosed with Waterhouse-Friderichsen Syndrome accompanied by Meningococcal Meningitis and
complicated by complete surgical shock, though no surgery had taken place. Twice within the same 24 hours Bob’s doctor - his mother’s cousin - told his parents he had just six hours to live and to prepare for the worst.
Stubbornness, a strong will, and lots of penicillin, ultimately paid off. Bob survived, returned to school after three months, and went on to live 70 more very full and worthwhile years. His gratitude and reverence endured for Dr. Vermeulen, who saved his life.
Steady, witty, humorous, thoughtful, practical, charismatic, and exceedingly fair, as well as impetuous and impatient at times, Robert Bruce Craig, the youngest son of Alma and Robert Craig, departed this life on Wednesday, November 11, 2020, as the result of injuries sustained in a fall at home weeks earlier. He was 24 days from his 88th birthday.
Bob was born in his family’s house in Hawthorne, NJ, and attended Hawthorne schools, graduating Hawthorne H.S. in 1950. He briefly attended Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA, and Upsala College in East Orange, NJ, before being drafted during the Korean War. There, he served on active duty from 1953 until 1955. Or as he often told his children, he spent “two birthdays, two Christmases, and two New Years,” away from home and family helping manage the base post office. Growing up, Bob worked in a rubber factory and kept the knife for the rest of his life, using it often for various projects. Perhaps it was also a reminder of where he had been. He spent a summer with his best pal, Joe, working for Hawthorne by painting crosswalks around town. He even worked as a groundskeeper at the very cemetery that was founded by his forefathers and where he will spend his eternity at rest.
In early 1956, Bob caught on with the Royal Insurance company out of their East Orange office. Bob showed a real knack for reading and interpreting the language of policies and their
exclusions. His talent proved to be useful, and was put to better use following a transfer to the company’s U.S. corporate headquarters in New York City in 1963.
Around that time, he met the indomitable Margaret Wilcox. On October 29, 1966, Bob and Margaret wed in Ridgewood, NJ, her hometown. After a few years in Midland Park, and with a third child on the way, the family moved to the home of Margaret’s mother in Wyckoff, NJ. The three-generation household was familiar to Bob, as part of his own upbringing was similar.
Bob’s career took off in the 1970s, when he was promoted three times in four years, and served on many industry committees. He ultimately rose to Assistant Vice-President of Claims and
Liabilities in 1979, an honor that garnered nearly 30 congratulatory notes and praise. During the 1980s, his policy interpretations and industry expertise led him to be called on to testify in major litigation cases across the U.S., including Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle, and San Antonio.
Bob awoke by 5:30 most mornings to commute to lower Manhattan for nearly 30 years until Royal moved its headquarters to NC in 1984. He spent the balance of his career back on the Jersey side. He liked to tell the story of the company’s Family Relocation Survey of employees and spouses. Margaret’s entry read, “Spouse and children are NOT GOING.” Bob’s drolly read, “Employee has open mind.” The family stayed in NJ. He transferred to the company’s Parsippany, NJ, office, where he worked until mid-1990. For the final 14 years of his career, Bob worked with an insolvency runoff, Integrity Insurance Company in Liquidation, in Paramus, NJ. It remains debatable whether Bob retired because the company shuttered or because Margaret finally “let him.”
Margaret and Bob raised four sons, John (1968), Scott (1971), Todd (1972), and James (1976). During those years Bob was involved in everything that was important to his children. He worked with Cub Scouts, not only at Den and Pack meetings, but he volunteered his time and skill in the home workshop by designing and finishing plaques for each scout with a display of their participation and accomplishments. He even kept a 1920s Chrysler running smoothly for years and drove it in several Wyckoff parades as his wife and kids tossed candy from the passenger and rumble seats.
He coached in the town recreation baseball and basketball programs. He coached his children at home, in the yard, and over the telephone on their weekly calls home.
For a period of time, he served with the Ramapo H.S. Boosters. Also within the high school district, he won a “squeaky duck” award for his magnificent portrayal of “Ruffie the Dog” in a 1980s production of a FLOW Follies variety show. Who could forget his memorable line, “Ruff ruff?” Margaret, one of the show’s co-founders, maintained that she did not put him up to it.
Bob participated fully in his children’s education. From “parent go to school night” to delivering and picking them up from college, he was present. Above all, whether athletic, academic, or professional endeavors, he urged his sons to “strike a balance” in life.
Bob’s love for baseball was evident from an early age. The subject of another of his college essays was, “How to Play First Base,” something he knew quite a lot about. “Many years of hard
practice, and above all a love for baseball may turn a select few into major leaguers,” he wrote.
Though he spawned no pro athletes, he nurtured his children’s development. No matter the sport or game, he was a superior athlete and knew he could win either way and likely by using either hand. In fact, he would sometimes ask his kids which hand they wanted him to use. It was just a way for him to work on his “off” hand that day, whether shooting pool or baskets.
“Dad humor” was also a forte. His family is convinced he helped invent the corny joke genre. One or more of Bob’s boys would want to play catch with their dad. They would call for a ground ball. Dad would roll a few. Finally, one would shout for a “high pop.” His response? “Hi, son!” He usually acknowledged his clever puns with a mock chuckle.
Many families have quotable “dadvice,” wisdom, and running jokes. It was no different with the Craigs. Yes, he threatened to “stop and turn this car around!” a few times. The gutters seemed to always need cleaning, the yard had weeds that always needed pulling. At the appropriate time, he would break out his “daddy dance.” He thought his moves were smooth. Thursday must be spaghetti night. The irony is that he is not of Italian descent, and was not much of a chef.
He would not pass a pay phone without checking the slot for a quarter. He “relished the idea” of having relish on his burger. He would tell his kids they were “staring at the screen too much watching mindless garbage.” When particulars failed him, he would expect someone to understand what he meant by “the thing in the place with the stuff.” Someone usually did.
There was always the dream of the cabin in the Poconos by the lake near the golf course. He brought it up as something aspirational. Instead, he took his family to Bermuda, FL, Barbados and other car trips. He was not quite the expert moped rider or water skier, picking up “road rash” in Bermuda and face-planting in the sea in Barbados. He joined in on trips out west and New England and twice to Scotland, where he played some rounds of golf in 2004.
There, he achieved a goal to have his favorite, go-to cocktail: “Johnnie Walker Red on the rocks with a twist of lemon.” Daring to stray from his comfort zone while in Scotland, he ordered “scotch.” His sons rolled their eyes.
For many years before and after retirement, Bob was part of the same golf foursome. Monthly, he and his friends spent a Friday-evening session shooting pool, reminiscing, and catching up on family stories, or the aches and pains of aging.
It is possible he also read a manual on “How to Be a Stereotypical Old Man.” In his later years, he was known to write letters to the editor, having a few printed. He took particular pleasure in
taking on large corporations he thought had wronged him. In many cases they had and they reversed their positions.
Familiarity and routine became essential in his later years. He took pride in routine house and yard work tasks and found community as a regular on errands to the grocery store, bank, and outings with Margaret to their favorite restaurant. Yes, he mass-forwarded emails, but also took time to use the same tool to stay in touch with friends. His dedication to Margaret was never
more apparent than during her health struggles. He devoted himself to her care to the very end.
They built a terrific life together and “had a good run,” as he said. On their second wedding anniversary, as new, first-time parents, Margaret penned a note to Bob. In part, it read, “what I feel for you now is so much more than I can express in words or in writing.…happy anniversary, my dear, and a most heartfelt thank you for all you do for me and have done for me. I don’t think I could ever go it alone again.”
The Craigs extend their love and gratitude to the neighbors, friends, and colleagues who were a part of their parents’ lives in Wyckoff for nearly 60 years.
Robert is survived by sons John R. (Kumi Tucker) of NY, their daughter, Julia A. Craig; Scott W. (Danielle) of NJ; Todd A. of NJ; James W. (Jennifer) of NC, their sons, Jameson D., and
Greyson W., and dogs, Sammi and Gussie. He was predeceased by his wife of nearly 53 years, Margaret W. Craig (2019), his parents Robert L. (1989) and Alma V. Craig (1993), his brother, David L. (1996), and many family pets.
Graveside Service and Interment: Monday, November 16, 11:00am, Fair Lawn Memorial Cemetery, friends welcome. Livestream details pending.
Contributions: In lieu of flowers, the Craigs encourage your consideration and support in the names of Margaret W. and Robert B. Craig to St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, 169 Fairmount Road, Ridgewood, NJ 07450 (stesridgewood.org), and/or to West Side Presbyterian Church, 6 South Monroe Street, Ridgewood, NJ 07450 (westside.org).
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