My 35-year-old father, Bob Robertson, struts for some of the San Francisco Chronicle gang in 1963 after walking 50 miles around the city in 20 hours, taking up President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the Marine Corps for one of the paper’s gag stories.
He did it fueled by martinis and oranges, so the tale goes, and laughed despite severely blistered feet. I know he had done a fast 25-mile hike as a young Marine in boot camp 16-or-so years earlier, but this was double the distance and on pavement and he wore tennis shoes. He might not have made it without my stepmother, Pat, supplying fresh socks and icing the gin.
At any rate, that’s my late father on the left, then of the Chronicle, later of the Peace Corps, in sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers. I think the scene is on Market Street. Chronicle photographer Gordon Peters printed the shot on February 8, 1963. It turned up crumpled in a box after my father’s death in 1995.
Another walk: There was another old black-and-white print in the box, a UPI photo taken in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965, during one of the civil rights marches to Montgomery.
Dad is in the background in a raincoat, turning his head to see police and marchers outside the Dallas County Courthouse in Selma. He was there covering the march for the Chronicle. Some friend at the paper, probably Peters, circled Dad in grease pencil. The photo is not very grand but a keepsake for me.
I look back at the headlines from his March 1965 stories: “A Singing Heard in Selma’s Mud,” “Two Voices — Both White,” “The Badges of Courage in Selma,” “A Day of Change in Selma,” “Selma Near the Boiling Point,” “54-Mile Walk for Freedom,” “The Road to Equality,” “14 Miles More Along the Freedom Road,” “Through the Mud to Montgomery,” “Marchers in Sight of Goal,” “The Shock of Alabama,” “King Calls for Alabama Boycott.” And my eyes well up when I read “25,000 Cry ‘Freedom.”
2 thoughts on “Walking dad: San Francisco and Selma”
Joyce: I was sorry to hear about Keith and hope your sadness is tempered by good memories and nearby sons. Congratulations on your art career, by the way. I enjoyed looking at your work on the internet. In case you do not have a Santa Fe photo of you and Keith dressed for a night at the opera, I recently ran across a copy in my collection. It sings of fun. I would be happy to get it to you if you think it is not among your own photos I retired from newspapers in 2015 after 40 years in the biz. I am grateful for the career but still think the Chronicle gang had more fun.
Hello John, wonderful to read this! Bob and Pat were our best friends “back in the day” when we all lived in Sausalito and then of course we treasured the visits we had with them in Santa Fe. We have a lot of photographs from that time, Bob was a terrific presence. I referred to him as “The Viking.” Keith passed away last month. It is good to know you too became a journalist With fond regards, Joyce Power