Howard Edgar Robertson

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HOWARD E. ROBERTSON
A QUIET MAN WHO LEFT HIS MARK

howard_robertson.jpg (26943 bytes)
The above photo of Howard E. Robertson at work at his desk at the Bonne Terre City Hall was contributed by his nephew Rollin E. Becker. 

The following article written by Leroy Sigman was published in the Daily Journal of St. Francois County, Missouri, on Thursday, October 26, 1972:

There was little public notice beyond a brief obituary Monday announcing the death of a retired St. Joe office worker who died peacefully of natural causes in his bed over the weekend.

For Howard E. Robertson, 62, of Bonne Terre, there was not even a funeral or burial service.

It was not because Robertson was an unknown or a recluse, for he was neither of these.   While he was a bachelor and survived by only a nephew and cousin, this was not the reason for the unceremonious turn of events that followed his death.

A highly religious man, it might have come as a surprise to many that there were no religious rituals.  It might have been because of his strong Christian beliefs that really had a part in this, for he knew that when he "left this life" there would be something beyond.

Again, because of his moral credence and concern for fellow man, the body he maintained in life might be of benefit to others after death through scientific research.  Thus it was that he made arrangements that his body be given to the Department of Anatomical Science at the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

The delivery of his body to the Medical Center at Columbia precluded the normal processes of a funeral and other rituals - not that Robertson disapproved of such - but because in his case he felt the scientific research might be more beneficial to those he leaves behind.

Few would debate the claim that Robertson was a unique man.  Because of health he had taken an early retirement.  Through his years with St. Joe Lead Company he had been a meticulous and dedicated worker - highly competent and his work, though not glamorous by its nature, was recognized by those who were associated with him.

Though very dedicated to his work, Robertson was equally enthusiastic about anything he undertook.  He was an exceedingly dedicated railroad buff.  Not only was he extremely precise about his hobby of model railroading, he was a railroad historian.   He collected and even renovated photos of railroad history - very much of it involving the local railroads that served East Central Missouri during the past century.   But the collection of memorabilia was not the full extent of his hobby that went beyond the degree of most hobbies, for he compiled a very thorough history of railroading in the area and most it he could relate from memory in informed chats when the subject came up.  This was a great rapture with Robertson.

Railroading was not the only topic of Robertson's historic research.  He collected historical data of a wide variety, mostly that relating to Bonne Terre and St. Francois County.  Many found him to be one of the few reliable sources who could provide a vast wealth of information when the need arose for some special project. 

Despite failing health and his great interest in historical data, Robertson was not one who lived in the past.  He took great interest in a variety of things and was always one to keep abreast of current events on the local, state and national levels.

He was a friend to many current and past state officials.  Though many may not find it a "big deal" - many more do - to have that reserved license plate number and it was something that Robertson took pride in.  A visit to Jefferson City was an opportunity for him to make social calls on prominent leaders and to him the door was always open.  But, while he treasured such friendships, Robertson did not think of himself as a "wheel".

In fact, Robertson tended to be more of a retiring type of person preferring not to push himself upon people.  Unless he was approached in a manner that gave him assurance that his company was interested, he would refrain from getting involved in a conversation that he thought might be boring to his companions.

While his health did place some limitations on his activities, retirement was not something he could totally accept.  In time he became the treasurer for the City of Bonne Terre.  He took this job very seriously and was as meticulous about it as he was his career with the lead company.

Though the duties of treasurer for a community the size of Bonne Terre could hardly justify a fulltime employ, Robertson pitched in and could be found carrying out numerous additional tasks to assist the city clerk and city manager as well as the police department because of his clerical abilities.

The city did not hire him as a fulltime employee and it was understood that, because of his health and possible other activities, his schedule was not one that had to follow a time clock pattern.  But Robertson was almost as regular as the clock. He was at city hall in the morning to open up and, unless there was something else he had to do, he could be found there most of the day. 

About three years ago an irate citizen complained to the city council that they felt it was unfair that a man who did not even own property should be on the city payroll.   The reaction was almost total incense by the city officials that such an attack was made on Robertson, the fellow who was putting in some 160 hours per month at the time for the huge salary of $40 per month.  Robertson was not irate, but instead offered to "let the council off the hook" by resigning.  Not only did they make it clear that they felt he was doing an exceptional job and great service to the community, they laughed at the idea of his resigning.  Though they revered his efforts, there was always the understanding, for Robertson's benefit, that he was to work at his convenience and as his health permitted.

He was so respected that when the city found themselves temporarily without a police judge recently that Robertson was convinced to accept the tentative appointment for the brief period it took to find a permanent appointee.

Even in failing health, Robertson worked up to the very end with the same dedication that he had shown for several years.

Mrs. Lucille Criteser, city clerk, who has worked with Robertson for three years expressed how much he will be missed - not just for the extensive amount of work that he did, but for the many little things that he would do out of consideration for others.

Others in the community, including those he worked with at city hall, will also miss him.  As one explained, he was a man who you grew to like a great deal without realizing it.  He was often victim of innocent practical jokes and though he would retaliate in some manner as though angered it was mock anger for he enjoyed the companionship that came with his work.

Howard Robertson was a relatively quiet man and it might be fitting that his passing was in the same fashion as his life, quiet and, until now, unheralded.


Note:  Howard Robertson had a regular column in the Lead Belt News newspaper of Flat River for many years entitled "Railroad Club News" in which he documented the history of railroads in this area.  These columns also often included biographical sketches of many of the men who worked the rails.  Had it not been for Howard E. Robertson and his love of the railroads, this part of our local history would have been lost to us forever.


Obituary of Howard Edgar Robertson.


Howard Edgar Robertson was the son of George Washington Robertson and Armina Leona Pigg. He was born 18 September 1910 at East Bonne Terre, Missouri and died 22 October 1972 at Bonne Terre Mo. St. Francois County, at 207 East School Street where he made his residence. He had attained the age of 62 years 1 month and 4 days, and was the last child of this union. He had worked for several years in the area including his last employment with St. Joe Lead Company. After retirement he also was City Treasurer for the City of Bonne Terre for a while. Howard loved to travel and wrote many articles about people and places. He was a railroad buff and wrote many articles named "Railroad News Digest" that appeared in the local Lead Belt newspapers. He never married but lived a quiet life, spending most of his time trying to help others. He loved to play piano at churches when the regular musician was absent. He was also an accomplished accordion musician. His parents and all his siblings died before him. But he had several nephews and nieces, two of which he partially reared: Rollin E. Becker and Buna L. Adams. His body was willed, by the deceased, to the Missouri Anatomical Board, Department of Anatomical School of Medicine, University of MO., Columbia, Missouri. Arrangements were under the direction of C. Z. Boyer and Son service, Bonne Terre, MO.

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