Bob Owens was one of thirteen, the oldest of seven boys, before there was a girl. Bob’s dad, Jack, was in the Navy in Hawaii. A real hard assed war vet. Bob was 18 years old, an All-American high school quarterback, and due to go to Wake Forest University on a full scholarship.
The night Bob graduated from his high school in Honolulu, Jack told him (1) Here’s $25 and my congratulations and (2) You don’t live here anymore, we need your bed.
Then he asked, “When are you enlisting?” Bob replied, “Dad, I’m going to Wake Forest, I’m deferred.” Jack repeated his question. Bob his answer.
Jack then said, “Bob, your country’s at war. When are you going in?”
Almost immediately upon his arrival in Vietnam Bob was assigned “the point man” on a reconnaissance mission. He stepped on a foxhole with a sniper pointing the gun straight up, shooting Bob point blank in the stomach.
After nineteen months in rehab, this fine young man walked out still with part of the bullet in his back.
I’ve never met anybody who was as “pure good” as Bob Owens. He was to become my assistant coach, a dear friend, and be Wanda’s husband.
Wanda’s 1st husband had been killed in a parachute accident almost the time the twins, Jay and Todd, were born.
Their new father, Bob, brought them, at age 9 ,to our first tennis camp at Elon.
Physically they were identical. Personality wise – opposite. Jay was mean as a snake, Todd – a pussycat.
They commuted to camp, but Jay learned the dorm “residents” were going to have a “water balloon fight” camp’s middle night – Wednesday.
It was Margaret’s idea, and our only water balloon fight ever.
The blond boys approached me about the event, with different agendas. The conversation went like this:
Jay: “I heard ya’ll were having a water fight.”
Todd: “Yeah, and a night tournament.”
Coach: That’s right.”
Todd: “Our mom may let us stay Wednesday night.” Jay: “ Can we be in the water fight?
Todd: Will you let us play in the tournament?”
Jay: “How many balloons do you get?”
Todd: “Will you help us keep score in the tennis tournament?”
Jay: “Can you hit anybody you want to?”
Todd: “I’m not positive our Mom will let us stay.”
Jay: “We are staying for this.”
The next year Bob volunteered to work in Tennis Camp. It took half the staff to watch Jay and Todd, so I was delighted.
Bob and Margaret could run the camp. Throw in Kyle Wills and Eddie Gwaltney and our staff made a little needed money, plus we raised our kids in the camp. A court, or gym, is not a bad place to rear a child.
Bob was all work, and kindness. If I picked something up, he took it away from me and did it himself He couldn’t sleep well because of Vietnam, so he’d put ’em to bed, and wake ‘em up.
The first night after a hard day at camp, I told Bob to leave the trash until morning. “Not so, can’t leave after fishing ‘til the boat is clean. ” Capt. Jack” taught Bob well. Oldest of thirteen made managing tennis camp a snap for Bob.
Bob soon became my Assistant Tennis Coach.
Once, after practice, Bob was blowing all the leaves off our 12-court facility. When he circled by me, standing at the fence watching him, he stopped.
“Coach, what’s wrong?” He could see the tears in my eyes. I told him the truth.
“Bob, I just hope there’s not another American young person as good as you, about to be shot.” I was so wrong and am saddened by all the tragedy we are experiencing.