Remembering an old friend, Bob Whitelaw, and a night with Frank and Ava
Every now and then you meet someone who can do anything.
Bob Whitelaw was that kind of guy.
A veteran of the Army and AT&T, Bob was equally at home assembling MG sports cars in the backyard or teaching marketing concepts at the Wharton School. He was a Boy Scout in a drum and bugle corps…and a chauffeur for Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner for a memorable week.
“He was the smartest man I ever met,” said his wife of 28 years, Melody McGinley Whitelaw, “caterer to the stars” at The Main Event in Morristown.
Bob died on Tuesday at the veterans hospital in East Orange from complications of a stroke. He would have turned 79 this month.
The Morris Township resident won a “Soldier of the Year” award during the Korean War, Melody said, and was rewarded with an assignment to First Lady Mamie Eisenhower’s security detail at Augusta National Golf Course.
Always industrious, Bob ingratiated himself with a sergeant by cutting soldiers’ hair and splitting the proceeds–50 cents per G.I. head.
Bob graduated from Carthage College, and earned advanced degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. He bred West Highland White Terriers and had an extensive collection of Lionel trains.
As a Scout, Bob played drums in the now-famous Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps, which his father helped to establish in Chicago, Melody said. But it was his dad’s limousine service, located near the Playboy magazine office, that provided the story Bob loved to tell at parties.
Frank Sinatra was visiting Chicago for some performances. Young Bob picked up Ol’ Blue Eyes and his stunning wife, actress Ava Gardner…and drove her to the Whitelaws’ house to use the bathroom.
Eventually, the men noticed Ava was missing. As Bob told the tale, the movie star had slipped off to hide from her famous husband under a porch. Theirs was a tempestuous relationship.
Frank pulled Bob aside and asked him to escort Ava around Chicago while he attended to business. So Bob took one of the world’s most beautiful starlets on a week-long shopping spree.
“It was a tough job, but someone had to do it,” Bob would say.
When Bob finally returned the couple to the airport, Frank produced a wad of cash. Decades later, Bob still marveled at the sum: A then-princely $1,500. It bought Bob a brand new Volkswagen Beetle.
Bob is survived by three sons from a previous marriage, Bob, Don and Richard Whitelaw, and a daughter, Susan Weiss, all of New Jersey; by a stepson, Shay Sowden of California; and by nine grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at a date to be announced.
MorristownGreen.com lost a dear friend this week.
Bob Whitelaw of Morris Township was a courtly gentleman who once spent a week chauffeuring