Skip to comments.Longtime OCBP Captain, Bob Craig, dies (ROBERT CRAIG: 1918-2009)
Posted on 04/07/2009 2:36:23 PM PDT by real_patriotic_american
(April 3, 2009) The man who not only epitomized the Ocean City Beach Patrol, but also built it into a serious and professional organization, passed away Saturday.
When Capt. Robert (Bob) S. Craig turned 90 last July, a competition, dinner and slide show honored him for his 52 years as a town employee and member of the Beach Patrol.
Thousands knew Craig from his years guiding the Beach Patrol and taking it from a small, relatively unskilled group of young men to a large group of highly skilled young men and women.
Capt. Butch Arbin, the current head of the Beach Patrol, said Craig has had an impact on Ocean City history because he was such a vital part of it for so many years.
Nowadays, Arbin said, people don't know or don't care who is captain of the Beach Patrol, but years ago, people were very involved and knew the captain because they would see him talk to the guards and others on the beach. He was a real part of Ocean City.
Craig always held the lifeguards to high standards and instilled in them a sense of accountability and responsibility, Arbin said.
Arbin also said Craig led a significant life and gave others the opportunity to live significant lives.
"In life, you want to be significant," Arbin said. "And when you save a life, you know you've made a difference and you know you are significant. He knew he made a significant difference in Ocean City and in the lives he touched."
Former Ocean City Councilman George Feehley tried out for the Beach Patrol in 1946.
"The whole test consisted of swimming in the ocean and trying to bring [Craig] in," Feehley said. "He was beyond the surf."
Feehley said Craig, who was a big man, would wrestle the prospective lifeguards a bit. If he really wanted to, he said, Craig could have prevented someone from "rescuing" him.
"He gave enough resistance to do the job," said Feehley, who successfully retrieved Craig and was on the Beach Patrol for one summer.
Craig would be remembered, Feehley said, because he "built the Beach Patrol from very few people to about 200 now."
Lt. Ward Kovacs of the Beach Patrol is another of the few still around who worked with Craig. Not only that, but Craig was his landlord so he got to know Craig's soft and gentle side.
"He was always looking for ways to look after his Beach Patrol people," Kovacs said.
Because he was the landlord, Craig looked after Kovacs in special ways.
"He used to take money off the rent if I cut the grass," Kovacs said. "I saw a new side of him and appreciated his sense of humor. Others got to know him as the guy steering the ship. I was fortunate enough to know him and to keep in touch."
When Craig was hired in 1935, there were just seven lifeguards guarding a resort beach that was then just a few blocks long, extending from the present inlet up to Seventh Street, then the corporate limits of Ocean City.
At the time, Craig was just 17.
"In those days you didn't get tested. The City Council appointed you. That's all there was to it," he said during a 2001 interview for Ocean City Today.
A city councilman asked Craig if he could swim. After Craig said that he could, the councilman told him to go tell the Beach Patrol captain to hire him.
Upon reporting for duty, Craig received a bottle of smelling salts and a ring buoy, but he had to supply his own whistle and swim trunks. Training was just about nonexistent.
In those early days, Craig sat on the edge of the Boardwalk, 6 feet above the sand, and watched as the surf rushed beneath it. He later pedaled a bicycle on the boards when he supervised the guards and delivered the weekly paychecks.
Craig stayed with the patrol through the years, becoming its captain in 1946. He saw the bicycle replaced by Jeeps and all-terrain vehicle and he saw the introduction of Zodiac boats, walkie-talkies and telephones.
Craig saw many changes in the Beach Patrol during his years at the helm. Several of those changes came from Craig himself, who discovered two important lifesaving ideas while visiting a Florida beach.
The Ocean City lifeguards used circular rings buoys that were cork wrapped in canvas. In Key Biscayne, Craig saw lifeguards using semaphore and metal torpedo buoys. Intrigued, Craig drew designs and took them to Munford Sheet Metal where they were made.
Eventually the Beach Patrol would move on to similar buoys made of plastic.
He made other long term improvements as well.
"The way we make rescues, the rank system and the way we cover for each other, those came from Capt. Craig," Arbin said.
During one of those long ago summers when Craig was a lifeguard, he met and later married Virginia Lee (Ginny) Mason from nearby Berlin. It was 1938 and they met at the Pier Ballroom, where he was taking tickets as a second job.
Their sons, Jim and Rob, and later a grandson, Chris, also became resort lifeguards. Daughter Mary Dale did not.
Although Craig was certainly best known for his years with the Beach Patrol, lifeguarding was not his sole passion. Jazz and big band music were his favorite forms of music and he liked to be on the golf course.
While at the beach in the summer, Craig was a lifeguard, but during the remainder of the year, he taught math, Latin, German and French at Principia High School in a suburb of St. Louis.
Ocean City was Craig's second home until he retired from teaching in 1981. Then he and Virginia Lee moved to the resort permanently. Virginia Lee Mason and their son, Jim, died in 2008.
His legacy lives on in so many people that he trained and mentored on the OCBP and are now outstanding citizens in society.
He was also a teacher and coach for so many years.
I met him many times in the early morning, when he was supervising the cleaning of the beach and the set-ups for the days' beach patrol, and I was setting out to sell my newspapers for the day.
Tens of thousands of people will miss and long remember the fine service of Captain Craig.
Many of Craig’s surf lifeguarding procedures and inventions are still in practice today!
OC Beach Patrol Icon Remembered
The Dispatch | April 3, 2009 | By Shawn J. Soper, News Editor
Posted on 04/07/2009 5:29:24 AM PDT by real_patriotic_american