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Memories of Bob Chilton

Edited by Carla Rueck  | Published on 11/1/2021

- Bob Chilton Tribute From Joe Yoder, Dallas, TX


There are few people that are so gifted and so generous, but Bob Chilton set the gold standard for both. There are people who know more about Bob’s gifts in business, investing, sailing, shooting, and photography and his astonishing contributions to charities, the YMCA, and the arts, so I’ll just focus on Dallas croquet.

I met Bob at the Dallas Lowe’s Anatole Hotel’s croquet courts in the 90’s. He’d been brought to the courts by his former daughter-in-law, Lisa Chilton (now Maddox). Lisa thought Bob might enjoy croquet and, boy, was she spot on. It was perfect outlet for Bob’s competitive nature, and he relished on the strategy and complexity of the American six-wicket game!

Over the next few months Bob and I spent many Saturdays and evenings at those courts working on his game. We spent so much time together that a Dallas Croquet Association member, Bob Knowlton, asked me, “Why are you spending so much time with Bob?”  My answer: “Because this guy has the ability to change the face of croquet!”

The other reason I was so devoted to Bob is that he was just a great guy--he loved to laugh and was a fast and eager learner. Had also knew so many jokes that we were continually belly-laughing! I’m proud to say that with the help of Bill and Suzan Copeland, Scooter Hines, Bob Knowlton, John Dill, and other DCA and USCA members, Bob’s passion for croquet was set and he, in fact, did exactly what we thought he would.  He went on to be a two-time Texas State Champion and most recently, a Senior Masters Singles Champion.   

For all of Bob’s “big picture” accomplishments, it is the personal encounters that left the most indelible impression on me, my wife, and children.  Here are a few examples.

In the early 2000’s the DCA was sending a small contingent of players to Tulsa for their fall tournament. I had just bought a new minivan and thought, “Oh boy, we can pile in for a great road trip and we’ll hit every Dairy Queen.”  I started calling around and everybody was in. Then I called Lisa she reached out to Bob and get his take on this road trip.  Thirty minutes later, she called back and informed me that “Bob doesn’t do road trips and he certainly doesn’t do Dairy Queen”, but he would fly us all to Tulsa in his jet if we wanted to! Duh, that was a choice? It took about five seconds to say “Yes”. A few days later, we piled into the plane and jetted to Tulsa.  We’d told members of the Tulsa club we were flying in on Bob’s jet, and they greeted us at the airport like red-carpet celebrities—bowing and chanting “We’re not worthy. We’re not worthy”.  We had a great time, picked up some trophies, and flew back to Dallas. Bob loved the idea that we were all DCA teammates going into battle and Bob was thrilled to be on the team.

Another event that’s etched in my memory was a chance opportunity to dine with Bob and his friends on his yacht. My family was vacationing in New England, and we learned that Bob’s yacht was anchored in the area to do some fishing.   We reached out and Bob invited us aboard for dinner. We mixed and mingled, savored a five-star dinner, and had a delightful time.   Bob could not have been a more generous host.

While the Anatole courts were good, Bob decided that Dallas needed a world-class croquet court and he wanted it in his “back yard”.  Watching this massive project unfold was certainly entertaining. There was only one problem. He lived on a raised point on Lake Ray Hubbard and there wasn’t nearly enough flat ground.  He called in a contractor who gave him a massive quote, which Bob balked at and decided to do it piece meal, hoping to save money. Unfortunately, with every step, there was more expensive.  Massive retaining wall to create the needed flat ground. Pump system to water it. Concrete border all the way around the court to stabilize everything. Lights good enough for a tennis court. Drainage to handle a heavy downpour. And the most expensive choice Bob made—northern bent grass—exactly the wrong grass for hot Texas summers.  But that grass is what Bob thought was the best and that’s what he had to have. In the end, he had one of the finest and most expensive courts in the world.  It was so perfect I described it as an outdoor billiards table. Of all the “toys” Bob had, the court may have been his most prized.

While these events were once-in-a-lifetime experiences, where his generous nature was evident everyday was the open-door policy he and Missy had at their home and court in Heath, TX (Dallas suburbs). Bob’s court had become the home of the DCA when the Anatole closed their courts and thank goodness, we were welcome to use the court at any time, whether Bob or Missy were there or not.  And when they were home, and since his court was lit, we’d all play until we dropped.  

Bob was a larger-than-life guy whose gifts and generosity were only amplified by his marriage and partnership with Missy. We’ll never know another one like him.   

- Thoughts from Anne Frost Robinson Hall of Fame Inductee 2013
 
Bob was getting into croquet just as I was retiring from working with the CFA, I think most of his volunteer work was with the CFA. One little tidbit though - he had the most beautiful croquet court setting in Dallas. I do remember that his family holiday card one year was so beautiful done, with his family all in whites on the court looking so elegant that I asked him if we could use the photo for promotional purposes and he said yes, so we used Bob’s family photo to promote croquet in advertisements and when members of the press asked us for photos of the sport for many years.

- Stuart Baker Palm Beach, FL

Over the last year or so, Bob has been providing me with important recommendations regarding my croquet game. About three times, he sat on the boundary while I was playing. I knew he was enjoying watching how his student did and I certainly did my best not to disappoint him. Bob and I share being lifelong fly fisherman. We discussed the subject several times, but unfortunately, the one time that he asked me to join him, I was unavailable. These are just two of the reasons why I will miss him.

- Britt Ruby, Tyler TX

Bob and I were doubles partners at several American rules national championships. It was always a fun day on the courts with this nice gentleman. My fondest memories occurred after the games were done and happy hour and a great dinner followed. There was always the rehash of the day’s good and bad shots. Soon the other stories of distant travel, of his latest adventure, or a good fish story.   Inserted in the evening were the jokes that only Bob had the skill to tell.  We were always amazed at his recall and sharp memory. Of course, the evening wasn’t complete without a bar trick or two.

He was instrumental in keeping Dallas Croquet Association going, along with their tournament,  The Texas Classic.    He had an open court whenever players wanted to practice. Most Saturdays when he was in town were spent on his court with this group. His Saturday hospitality usually included lunch at the nearby Rush Creek Yacht Club. The walls of the club are adorned with his pictures of their sailing races there on Lake Ray Hubbard. His name is on a few of the trophies there as well.

- Suzanne and Scott Spradling, Nichols Hills, OK

As I remember Bob Chilton these are some of the words that come to mind: enthusiastic, determined, sense of humor, love of life, generous, inclusive, curious, life- long learner, mischievous, entertaining, raconteur, sincere, caring, fisher, sailor, croquet player, gentleman, gracious. Scott and I will miss his presence, our fishing trips, tournaments together, meals shared. His ability to spin a tale or joke is unequaled. I can still hear him as he entertained the players at one of our Scissor Tail tournaments, he made us laugh until we cried. He and Missy were perfect together, welcoming, and gracious hosts. They complemented each other so well. There are so many good memories that we share and will cherish. We miss you, Bob and thank you for enriching our lives.   

- John Dill III, Kennedale, TX

As a member of the Dallas Croquet Association, I wanted to share these brief thoughts on Bob.
He gave continuously to a whole lot of Croquet People. The passing of Bob Chilton brings about sadness for many folks. We that knew him and experienced his unique personality can only SMILE and think of his quick wit. He will be missed by friends and family alike.

Bob was a tenacious man in every endeavor he participated in throughout his lifetime. I will not attempt to list the varied business, social, and sporting activities in which he was involved and dedicated to. I do know that CROQUET (the American 6-Wicket game) was his Sporting PASSION! The other major success story he enjoyed was his PHOTOGRAPHY! He possessed a wonderful eye for scenes and capturing the essence of people in his images.

Bob was the social Butterfly that would hover over the flower people at gatherings and share verbiage about thoughts in his head. He had a story to tell everyone he came in contact with. He had fun with his wardrobe at numerous events. One ALWAYS saw him mingling and Smiling.
His Philanthropy was part of his nature. He will be remembered in multiple facilities where he contributed to the growth and development of the Arts, Community Services, and the Sport of CROQUET to name a few.
Rest in PEACE old Friend.

- Many fond MEMORIES of CROQUET Adventures with Bob Chilton from Bob Kroeger, South Dennis, MA

As we all just recently learned, the world has lost a great human being in Bob Chilton. I feel incredibly fortunate to have met Bob and to get to know him, both in croquet and photography. As I am nature photographer, Bob was generous in his comments about my images in addition to offering great suggestions for improvement. It was always a joy to see his masterfully beautiful images covering such a wide variety of subjects. Bob will be deeply missed.
My sincere condolences to Missy and Bob’s entire family.

- Remembering Bob Chilton, Harold Menzel, Richardson, TX

In thinking back about the many times, we sat at courtside and Bob spoke to me as a friend, many of the conversations were just interesting topics that would not likely come up in my life.
The conversation that helped me recently, was the recounting of his experience with getting a pacemaker. His experience was so positive, that I had no trepidation this year when I was told that I needed one.

I appreciate these conversations more now that I have had a chance to reflect on them.
 RIP Bob.
 
- Billionaire Bob in Downeast Maine, recounted by Ben Rothman, Berkeley, CA

I first met Bob in the summer of 2000 when my uncle invited a cohort of Texans to Southwest Harbor, Maine, for a Croquet Shoot-Out. I was 16 years old and working at an ice cream shop while trying to learn as much croquet as I could from my uncle, Larry Stettner, between mountain hikes and dips in the freshwater lakes. My aunt, Fran, let me drive her father’s 1979 Chevy Impala station wagon, known as the Lou-Mobile, for the summer so long as I was willing to use it to haul around their canoe, croquet equipment, and the greens mower to maintain various croquet venues on Mount Desert Island.

When it came time to play against a cohort of Texas sharp shooters, my uncle went to pick a few up from the airport and I was tasked with picking up the one player arriving by boat, Bob Chilton. In our limited experience with sea-farers, my uncle learned that small boats could rent a slip at the harbor, but large boats would need to rent a mooring and take a dinghy to the dock. When Larry inquired which would suit Bob’s boat, he only said, “We’re too big for a mooring.” This left us a little awestruck, but Bob said that they would anchor in the nearby Bass Harbor and asked if we could pick him up from the Ferry Dock and take him to the croquet courts.

The day finally arrived and as Larry was driving back from the airport and preparing the croquet court, I headed to the Ferry Dock in Bass Harbor to pick up “Billionaire Bob”. Bob had made himself comfortable on the deck of Maine-ly Delights, the restaurant across the street from the dock. He was not hard to find, as it was the only building near the dock and he was dressed in his crisp croquet whites with reflective, aviator sunglasses. I pulled up in the Lou-Mobile, fan belt squealing, introduced myself and we were off for some friendly croquet competition.

The next day, my uncle pulled up to Maine-ly Delights to pick up a box of Lobster Rolls. (What good is a croquet tournament in Maine without a catered lunch of local fare?) While Larry waited for the accompanying whoopie pies and Cape Cod Chips a couple of crusty locals were eating and they pointed to Bob’s boat.

“Did ya see the big yacht in the Harbor?” one asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, I saw the skippa come to shore yesterday.” The other confirmed. “Did ya see the car the hotel sent to pick him up?” he asked incredulously.

My uncle left with a chuckle as the locals could only guess which hotel had messed up by picking up their VIP in a 20-year-old station wagon with a canoe on the roof.

Bob graciously invited all tournament participants to have the final dinner on his yacht while they sailed around the quiet side of the island. When he left, he asked for a ride to the airport to catch his plane. My uncle asked what time he needed to check in, and Bob quietly informed him, “Whenever the game is over, we can go. The plane won’t leave without me.” It dawned on us that he was flying “Chilton Air”. We took him in the Lou-Mobile.

- An Ode To Croquet
Ruth Summers Palm Beach, FL


The first time I came to know Bob Chilton was some time ago during a Palm Beach Croquet Club Invitational held at the National Croquet Center in which my assigned First Flight Doubles partner was to have been a long-time, much esteemed croquet player. When at the last minute he had to drop out, I was given Bob Chilton as my substitute partner, then an up-and-coming championship croquet player, soon to be Hall of Fame member. We got along famously and together won that flight with gusto. Years later, whenever Bob and I met playing and socially, he always impishly greeted me as “Partner”. Each time we chuckled as we recalled our special win together.

My fondest memory of Bob is his stunning, coffee table book entitled “SERIOUS CROQUET”. As we players know well, "croquet is a complicated game involving the strategy of chess, the touch in putting on a golf green, and the geometry of billiards.” With a narrative by Hall of Fame member, John C. Osborn, Bob’s "ode to croquet" visually delivers a unique insight into the game through candid shots of players.  "It displays their emotions, their intensity, their concentration, their drive and their frustrations.  It is SERIOUS CROQUET and that is why the game is so compelling.” (Quotation from SERIOUS CROQUET'S Foreword.) Bob’s gift to our croquet family takes us to a special place whenever we glance through it or present it to a friend. This book is also one which has great value added as a superb tool for 'keeping the ball rolling’.  Thank you, many times, over, Bob.  I think of you whenever I leaf through your book or proudly wear my special gift from you, the white baseball cap you designed which displays SERIOUS CROQUET on the front.

With great respect and love, your croquet “partner" Ruth Summers

- Bob Chilton Memories William “Bobby” Duryea, West Palm Beach, FL

Bob Chilton was not only a close friend but a brother. We fished together and we photographed together, and we photographed together and once in a while we played croquet. Only a good friend could get me to stand in the ocean at night with a. sparkler in hand so he could shoot a photograph, or do the same thing at night, standing under a column of trees on the road to his house again with a sparkler to get that certain shot. We fished together, laughed together and I miss him terribly.

- Bill Sadowski, Southampton, NY

Some time ago I discovered bobchilton.com. It is a beautiful place to visit for experiencing Bob Chilton way beyond his croquet life. It is a web site about how Bob captured the world through his eyes and his camera.

I found his website when I was researching his croquet experience for a news article, I was preparing for the Palm Beach Post. I found everything I needed for a croquet tournament I was managing. But from that point forward, nothing impressed me more that Bob’s magic with a camera. My wife, Diane and I spent many lovely occasions with Bob and Missy. I can’t remember discussing croquet ever!

When I told Bob of my passion for B&W photography especially with all the filtering options, he commented that I sure had “enthusiasm”. That was good enough for me!!
The best croquet advice Bob gave me was to stop sending pioneer balls to my opponent’s wicket.

- Eulogy David McCoy Wellington, FL

My name is David McCoy. My relationship to Bob was that of good friend and fellow championship-level croquet player. We met through the sport when I joined the National Croquet Center Club in West Palm Beach in 2006.

Bob & I loved to play doubles together, but we were mortal enemies in the singles version. It’s a vicious, addictive sport that some describe as “war on the grass.” I should clarify here for you poor souls who have never experienced the joy of the sport, that the croquet Bob & I play is not the backyard version that a lot of us knew as kids. This version is played with 6 wickets instead of 9, on a laser-level putting green that’s 105’ long and 85’ wide. The roughly 3-pound mallets are hi-tech & the wickets are solid steel. The clearance for the 1-pound solid plastic ball for tournament play is a sixteenth of an inch, and sometimes less. It’s very chess-like in strategy and billiards-like in its implementation.

Bob started playing croquet well before me. In fact, he was a former President and was still on the Board of the non-profit Croquet Foundation of America when we met. That Foundation owns and operates the National Croquet Center which opened in 2002. It’s the largest and finest facility in the world dedicated exclusively to croquet. It sits on 10 acres of land in West Palm Beach with 4 acres of championship lawns and a beautiful 19,000 sq. ft. Caribbean Colonial style clubhouse.

Bob was very instrumental in getting that Center built. He personally sponsored construction of its beautiful lounge and bar, the entrance to which appropriately bears a plaque with his name and smiling likeness! I’d say that Bob and I both continued to subsidize that bar over the years in our own way.

Bob is also to blame for the Foundation and croquet taking over my life in 2007 when he helped recruit me to the Foundation Board, and then elected me president. The timing was perfect…just before the great recession! Luckily, we were able to work together and save the Center, and that resulted in Bob nomination me to be awarded the distinctive Red Jacket of a U.S. Croquet Hall of Fame member in 2014. I was honored that Bob made the presentation. I’m still deeply involved as Chairman.
Bob himself had already been inducted into the Croquet Hall of Fame in 2007 in recognition of his exceptional role in promoting and developing the sport, his role in leading the foundation and his help in financing the Center’s construction and ongoing operations.
Croquet is a sport that enriched bot of our lives and resulted in many wonderful new friends and experiences. In fact, that’s where Bob met Missy!
 
Another great thing about the sport is that it’s played at some of the finest clubs in the country, and each club has at least one invitational tournament. Bob’s record as a player in those tournaments is phenomenal.
Whereas most of us in any sport suffer a decline in our game as we age, Bob’s game just kept getting better and better! Since 2007, which is as far back as I could get the records, Bob played in 184 tournaments against the best championship players in the sport. In that period, he was in the top three 73 times, and he won first place 17 times. At the same time, in a handicap system that ranges from a +20 for new players to only one player with a -4.0, Bob’s handicap improved from a + 0.5 to a -1.5. That’s 5 levels… just extraordinary, like his performance in everything else he decided to do… as you’ve just heard.

Bob was a great man, a great friend, and a great croquet player. We love you Bob… you’ll be sorely missed!