Friday, December 16, 2011

Washington Post Article honors Bob Faison


In memoriam: Robert R. Faison, 1929-2011



 ASSOCIATED PRESS/ASSOCIATED PRESS - As U.S. President Lyndon Johnson's highly guarded car rounds the corner taking him on "L" street and then to the Capitol building he lost balance, but regained it with the help of Mrs. Edmund Brown, wife of California governor, Sept. 17, 1964, in Sacramento, Calif. Secret Service agent Robert Faison is at far left.

After several years of struggling with recurring cancer, it became obvious to Faison that he was nearing the end of his fight. He recognized the signs, having lost both a wife and son to cancer; his eldest son, Gregory, succumbed to the disease in 1997. Though Faison’s health was declining, he was reluctant to relinquish his love of traveling, so Faison and his wife embarked on a jazz cruise to the Caribbean in early 2011. But Faison wasn’t strong enough to tour the islands as they had so many times before, and they had oxygen delivered to the cabin. Their new limitations led Faison and his wife to a difficult conclusion.

“I realized then, and I think he realized, that that was going to be our last cruise together,” Jacquelyn says. After their return, Faison turned his energies to a subject he had long tried to avoid: himself. He set to work on his own obituary.
As Faison saw it, he was the only one who could tell his story, since no one knew the details as he did. He worked quietly from their family room, sitting at the round table at which he regularly toiled over the bills and balanced their accounts. Using a yellow legal pad, he began to reconstruct the facts of his life. “Robert R. Faison,” he began, “affectionately known as Bob, was born in Montclair, New Jersey on August 12, 1929. ...


For weeks he worked on a draft. He wrote about the small Southern town where he was raised (Seaboard, N.C.), and the cousin who took him in and treated him as her own; the university where he graduated from with honors (North Carolina A&T), and the prestigious fraternity that he was an active member of for 51 years (Alpha Phi Alpha). He wrote of his pride in being promoted to chief warrant officer, and acknowledged the church he and Jacquelyn had joined after leaving Silver Spring for retirement in Palm Coast, Fla. He remembered those he loved and lost, and those who were left behind to “cherish his memory.”

Regarding his profession, he wrote, “He was the first African American permanently assigned to the White House and had the pleasure of serving six U.S. presidents during his career and traveled to more than 30 countries until he retired in 1995.”

A month before he died, Faison presented the legal pad to Jacquelyn, who was surprised but relieved. The draft was so thorough that she typed it verbatim, and used it in the programs at two of the three of the services held in his honor. The only addition she made was one her husband, so modest and matter of fact, would never have included. Robert Faison “was the epitome of a gentleman, loving, kind and always good-natured.”

After several years of struggling with recurring cancer, it became obvious to Faison that he was nearing the end of his fight. He recognized the signs, having lost both a wife and son to cancer; his eldest son, Gregory, succumbed to the disease in 1997. Though Faison’s health was declining, he was reluctant to relinquish his love of traveling, so Faison and his wife embarked on a jazz cruise to the Caribbean in early 2011. But Faison wasn’t strong enough to tour the islands as they had so many times before, and they had oxygen delivered to the cabin. Their new limitations led Faison and his wife to a difficult conclusion.

“I realized then, and I think he realized, that that was going to be our last cruise together,” Jacquelyn says. After their return, Faison turned his energies to a subject he had long tried to avoid: himself. He set to work on his own obituary.
As Faison saw it, he was the only one who could tell his story, since no one knew the details as he did. He worked quietly from their family room, sitting at the round table at which he regularly toiled over the bills and balanced their accounts. Using a yellow legal pad, he began to reconstruct the facts of his life. “Robert R. Faison,” he began, “affectionately known as Bob, was born in Montclair, New Jersey on August 12, 1929. ...

For weeks he worked on a draft. He wrote about the small Southern town where he was raised (Seaboard, N.C.), and the cousin who took him in and treated him as her own; the university where he graduated from with honors (North Carolina A&T), and the prestigious fraternity that he was an active member of for 51 years (Alpha Phi Alpha). He wrote of his pride in being promoted to chief warrant officer, and acknowledged the church he and Jacquelyn had joined after leaving Silver Spring for retirement in Palm Coast, Fla. He remembered those he loved and lost, and those who were left behind to “cherish his memory.”

Regarding his profession, he wrote, “He was the first African American permanently assigned to the White House and had the pleasure of serving six U.S. presidents during his career and traveled to more than 30 countries until he retired in 1995.”

A month before he died, Faison presented the legal pad to Jacquelyn, who was surprised but relieved. The draft was so thorough that she typed it verbatim, and used it in the programs at two of the three of the services held in his honor. The only addition she made was one her husband, so modest and matter of fact, would never have included. Robert Faison “was the epitome of a gentleman, loving, kind and always good-natured.”
Robin Rose Parker is a writer living in Maryland. She can be reached at wpmagazine@washpost.com.
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