Robert Foster Ripley’s rich life of professional success and community service ended Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, when he died at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. He was 94 years old.
He was born in Mathews County, Va., Jan. 22, 1917. He was the son of the late Carroll and Amye Ripley, and was predeceased by his former wife, Frances James Ripley.
Bob was educated in the county’s public schools. He attended Norfolk Business College, the University of Richmond and the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary, the forerunner of Old Dominion University. His major was business administration. It was at the University of Richmond that he honed the skill of remembering names that became a personal trademark. He once said that there were 860 students at the university when he was there and he knew each one by his first name.
In July 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned an ensign in February 1944. In 1945 he was damage control officer aboard the destroyer USS Converse off Okinawa while American forces were trying to wrest it from the Japanese. The Japanese were responding with kamikaze attacks in which suicide pilots tried to crash their planes on American ships. A nearby destroyer was hit and appeared to be sinking so captain and crew abandoned her. Ripley led a boarding party that patched enough of the damage so that the ship could be towed to port. His actions earned him a Bronze Star and a citation, which read in part: "His leadership and skill contributed materially to the saving of the ship and upheld the highest tradition of the United States Naval Service."
By profession a Realtor and developer, he rose to business prominence in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. But he also lent his time and talent to the civic arena, serving on an alphabet list of local, regional and state boards and committees. He was a member of Norfolk’s City Council from 1952 to 1956 and was named First Citizen of Chesapeake in 1978. He was on the board of directors of the United Communities Fund from 1961 to 1972. In 1960, he was chairman of the International Azalea Festival. He was Worshipful Master of the Atlantic Lodge A.F. & A.M. No 2 in 1955 and was in the Khedive Shrine Temple.
On the regional level, he was a member of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District Commission from 1956 to 1970. On the state level, he was president in 1969 and 1970 of the Virginia Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence.
Entering the real estate profession in 1945, his honors in that field included being named Norfolk’s Realtor of the Year in 1958, Small Businessman of Virginia by the Small Business Administration in 1966, president of the Norfolk Board of Realtors in 1969, regional vice-president of the Virginia Association of Realtors in 1970 and president of the Chesapeake Chamber of Commerce in 1978.
One of his proudest achievements was the success of the Paint Your Heart Out program that has seen hundreds of volunteers all over Tidewater spend an April day doing repairs and painting the homes of senior citizens who can’t afford to have the work done. He saw the program in action in Lakeland, Fla., in 1991. It was a Rotary Club project and he brought the idea back to his own Chesapeake Rotary Club. It was a quick success and he was named Rotarian of Year in ’92.
He spent 60 years as an active member of the real estate profession, building, selling and appraising residential, business and industrial properties. Though he was a dedicated professional, he also enjoyed family time and outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. He was proud of the way he had trained his sons in hunting safety and loved to talk about Princess and Spot, the two English setters he raised and trained. He was an enthusiastic fisherman, angling for spot, croaker and flounder from his boat, named Skipper. But it was more the time with family than the catch that mattered to him.
Left to cherish his memory is his loving wife of 41 years, Dorothy S. Ripley; five sons, Robert F. Ripley Jr. and wife Lynn, William James Ripley and wife Beverly, Ronald Carroll Ripley and wife Donna, Francis Scott Ripley, Larry Humphreys and wife Joyce; seven grandsons, Douglas, Brad, Judd, Chris and Matthew Ripley and Ross and Kevin Humphreys; three great-grandchildren, Matthew, Haley and Parker; one brother, Arnold Ripley and wife Eileen, as well as his aunt, Myrle Armistead, both of Mathews County.
The funeral service will be conducted at 11 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, at Oak Grove United Methodist Church, Chesapeake. The Rev. Randy McMillen will officiate. The entombment will follow in Woodlawn Memorial Gardens.
The viewing began on Wednesday with the family receiving friends from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Great Bridge Chapel of Oman Funeral Home & Crematory, 653 Cedar Road, Chesapeake.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Endowment Fund of Rotary International.
Friends are invited to sign the online guest book at www.omanfh.com.