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Why Cheshire Home Means So Much to Me

Posted Thu, May 9th, 2019 By Jim Whitney

I’m going to tell you a story about a 14 year-old boy, Robert.  The year was 1955 in the summer at the Jersey shore, specifically Monmouth Beach by the Atlantic Highlands.  Robert, known to his family as Robin, loved vacationing at his grandparent’s house in Monmouth Beach.  Just steps from the beach, Robin loved swimming in the ocean, running on the beach, chasing seagulls away from taking sandwiches his mom made for he and his brother, William, and many other summer outdoor physical activities.  Robin was adored by all who knew him, with his bleach blond hair, blue eyes, and sun-tanned skin, he encapsulated the male character of every Beach Boy song Brian Wilson would write, pre-1961.

Growing up in Livingston, NJ in the 50’s, Robin, like all kids had a best friend named Jimmy Donald.  They did everything together including going to Robin’s grandparent’s beach house in the summer.  I mention Jimmy for a very important reason which I will explain later but for now Robin and Jimmy had the world at their fingertips, and NOTHING WAS IMPOSSIBLE IN THEIR EYES.

One thing very different today then back in 1955 was the way in which people swam or went in the ocean.  Unlike today, anyone going into the water was required to have a buddy.  A buddy was someone who looked out for you while you as their buddy looked out for them.  Periodically, there were buddy checks where the lifeguard would blow their whistle and you had to find your buddy, grab their hand and hold it up into the air.   The lifeguard would check to make sure everyone had a buddy and then allow the beachgoers to continue on with their activities.  This buddy system, while annoying at times, would prove to be Robin’s saving grace on this fateful summer day for years to come and it just so happens that Robin’s buddy was Peter McCurrah.

Robin and Peter were wave diving.  Wave diving was something kids did for fun when at the beach where the person diving waits for the right wave and times diving into the wave’s swell from the beach piling.  While this activity seems harmless, it proved to be a life changing event for Robin when he misjudged the wave’s swell and broke his neck suffering a spinal cord injury when striking the sand in the shallow water behind the break.  Fortunately for Robin, his buddy Peter immediately jumped into the water and dragged Robin to the beach to prevent him from drowning.

The road to recovery would not be an easy one for Robin, from laying on the beach that summer day to spending the remainder of the summer at Monmouth Medical Center then transferring to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation to the struggles faced with personal rehab sessions at Robin’s parent’s home in Livingston, NJ.  In addition, Robin’s grandfather, Clarance Horr(nickname Bozzie), distraught over what had happened at his summer home to his eldest grandson, fell to his death while sleep walking when he fell over a balcony railing.  Needless to say, the summer of 1955 was not a memorable one for the Whitney/Horr family but one they would work through for years to come, especially Robin.

Fortunately, Robin came from a family with the means to be able to bring him home and seek the necessary care to help him learn to live with a new sense of normalcy, which now included a bright shiny wheelchair.  What Robin did not realize was this new wheelchair, came with a few drawbacks as did this new physical disability.  He no longer could walk, run, dance, play sports, ride his bike but he could pull a wheelie in his wheelchair.  Faced with his physical disability, Robin learned to dance again by having a girl sit on the arm of his chair while he moved around the dance floor.  He basically retrained himself to do everything he could do before but differently.  The bottom line is Robin would not let his physical disability diminish his quality of life and never accepted the fact that some things are not achievable.

The reason I tell this story is because my Dad was Robin, and my name is Jim ”Jimmy” Whitney, named after my Dad’s friend Jimmy Donald.  I know what you may be thinking and how awful that must have been for him or maybe you feel sorry for him that he had to face life in a wheelchair.  However, he would not want anyone to feel sorry or take pity on him.  He took life one day at a time and every situation as a challenge that he would overcome with his trusty sidekick and loving wife, Judy.  It was never, I can’t do that because I’m in a wheelchair, it was how can I make that happen because I’m in a wheelchair.

Dad lived an independent physical life, he knew how to swim, drive a car, graduated from Livingston High School and Upsala College, married Judy Gracey and settled down in New Providence, was employed by Summit & Elizabeth Trust Company, had 2 children (Kelly and Jimmy), became Cub Scout Master troop 363, served as a Cheshire Home Founding Board Member and fundraising champion, taught himself how to use a computer, retired to Florida, and spent time with Judy and their Golden Retriever dogs.  Needless to say, my Dad lived a full life and NOTHING WAS IMPOSSIBLE IN HIS EYES.

When I think of his life I think of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  My Dad, Robert, Robin, Bob, he was George Bailey and he touched so many people’s lives and I feel the world was a better place because of him.  It is in his honor and memory that I serve as a Cheshire Home Board of Trustees Member.


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