Robert J. Ley - May 6, 1932 – July 30, 2020
In his 88-year journey across much of the American Century, Robert J. Ley blazed a course defined by the words ‘values’ and ‘family’. To be born in Herbert Hoover’s America, in the depths of the Depression, in Down Neck, Newark was to learn the importance of those shining values of hard work and honesty, and the embrace of family. The second son of first-generation Americans, Bob grew up in a household where German was nearly as prevalent as English. And, in fact, just days before his passing he was still providing German lessons at the dinner table. After all, early on, his children learned that ‘schnell’ meant ‘get it done now,’ and ‘was ist los’ was a way to find out the latest.
Bob’s family‘s path followed the American dream, as at the age of 10 he moved from Down Neck to suburban Nutley. He loved telling stories of his time rowing crew for Nutley High School. That sport once brought his squad to Princeton University for a meet where the team bus was driving past a well-known Professor. And Bob swore that when he and his teammates called out, they received a wave in return from Albert Einstein. Football brought him the chance to literally knock heads with a future New York Giant great, Alex Webster, from nearby Kearny. And the sport provided him a scholarship offer to attend and play at faraway Utah State.
The Korean conflict and the draft intervened after his freshman season, and Bob’s time in the U.S. Navy Seabees (Construction Battalion) brought him to Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, and a posting in Morocco. And he had dozens of Kodachrome slides to prove it.
He returned home to the States, and soon met the love of his life - a Jersey girl, from neighboring Belleville, Elizabeth (Betty) Robinson. When they married in 1954, Bob had just turned 22, and Betty was not yet 21. And yes, they did know exactly what they were doing. For more than 47 years, until her passing in 2002, they were inseparable, a team. Blessed with the longevity of their own parents, nothing gave Bob and Betty more joy than their family, as they raised five children, welcomed 11 grandchildren, and persevered through the inevitable trials of life. They realized their dream of owning a small summer home on Nantucket, where it was truly possible to get away.
From his days at Nutley High, music was important to Bob. His high school Octet won awards, appeared on television in the late 1940’s, and even earned a trip to perform in Florida. And through the magic of technology, a recording of that group can still be heard. That love of music continued into the 1960’s with Bob’s devotion to Barbershop singing. This was more than a hobby. It was an avid pursuit, with keen competitive stakes, and awards won around the country.
At the annual local concert for the Montclair SPEBQSA chorus in the fall of 1969, a globally-renowned surprise guest was introduced at the end of the evening. As Bob’s chorus sang “God Bless America”, hometown hero Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin walked on stage. It was pandemonium. Afterwards, each member of the chorus shook the hand of the man who months earlier had just walked on the moon.
From his earliest days in the 1950’s working for the Weyerhaeuser Company, to his years in the 60’s managing major home construction developments, and then more than two decades as a senior administrator for the General Services Administration, Bob’s career was marked by the respect engendered in his colleagues and employees, and his attention to the highest standards. ‘If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ was the canon he lived and expounded, again, at the dinner table.
It was more than a work ethic. It was ethics in all things. Home construction management in New Jersey in the 60’s was a world where cash was a common inducement for speedy inspections and timely deadlines. On several occasions, one actually witnessed by one of his young and impressionable sons, Bob rebuffed attempts to purchase an expedient deadline, declining the cash on the spot. This at a time with four (soon to be five) kids at home, that money would have been welcome.
After retirement beckoned, Bob and Betty relocated from Bloomfield to Crystal Springs in Hamburg in 1997. Bob’s devotion to his wife was never more eloquently demonstrated than through her four-year battle with cancer.
Several years after Betty passed, Bob met Brenda. In fact, offered to buy her a drink. The rest is history. Their 15 years of marriage and companionship stand as a marvelous and touching chapter in their lives. The family was thrilled to welcome Brenda.
Even as his health declined, Bob kept his humor and spirits intact. Ask his home health care aides. They each fell in love with him.
Bob’s longevity and quality of life were immeasurably enhanced by the compassionate and informed care of his cardiologist, Dr. Darshan Godkar. The family has chosen a remarkable foundation begun by Dr. Godkar’s daughter Radha, https://www.kanyaa.net/
in lieu of gifts or flowers, to honor Bob’s life and memory.
Bob is survived by his wife Brenda, his sons Robert A. Ley of Key West, FL, and his wife Barbara; Thomas Ley of Wayne, PA and his wife Karen; William Ley of Denville, NJ and his wife Mary; his daughters Patricia Kennelly of Lincroft, NJ and her husband Robert; Nancy Bonnet of North Caldwell, NJ and her husband John; by his grandchildren Samantha and Alexandra Ley; Michael, Andrew, and Matthew Kennelly; Christopher and Katherine Ley; Isabella Ley; Patrick, Jack and Emma Bonnet; and his great-granddaughters Ellery and Rowan Zaremsky.
Details of a memorial will be posted at a later date.