During the years 1981 through 1983 I roamed the same Rappahannock County High School hallways with Dr. Robert Chappell, although I did my best to steer clear of him. You see Dr. Bob was not always the gentle ‘grandfatherly type’ we all came to know and love.
I was a ne’er-do-well student, living alone with my father due to my parents’ recent divorce. With my father working late hours and coming home late in the evening after his commute from Washington, D.C., I was often left to my own devices. Not the greatest scenario for a 17 or 18 year old kid desperately needing direction.
It was late spring of 1982, my 11th grade year. I was going to turn 19 in June and was resolved to drop out of high school and pursue a GED in between jobs. A few days before school let out for the summer I was approached by Dr. Bob and another one of my high school savior’s, Roger Flinchum. Word had gotten to them concerning my looming decision to kiss RCHS goodbye!
The two of them gave me the pep talk of all pep talks and after placing a call to my father it was decided for me that I would return to RCHS for my senior year; where I would be badgered relentlessly by the aforementioned duo, to complete every assignment given to me.
I graduated the following June.
But being somewhat embarrassed to be turning 20 six days later, I opted to not walk across the stage to receive my diploma. I chose to instead sit in the bleachers and watch my classmates go marching forth. I was told I would receive mine in the mail in a few days.
However, as I headed out of the old school house, there was Dr. Bob and Mr. Flinchum blocking my path. In a moment I’ll never forget, Dr. Chappell handed me my high school diploma, accompanied with a huge hug.
I went on to enjoy a successful 30-year career in the U.S. government and I still I remember the day I introduced my 5-year-old daughter to Dr. Chappell in the hallway of RCES. He was happy and proud to see another generation enter the school system.
As the years passed and he became immersed in the Madison County schools system, Dr. Bob still made himself a constant spectator of all things Rappahannock, often seen at far away drama competitions. I sat with him often and talked of days past.
Other times I would see him silently watching and smiling at the legacy he would one day leave behind.
God bless, and thank you, Dr. Bob.
— The writer lives in Castleton.
Editor’s note: Dr. Robert Thomas Chappell passed away this past Friday, May 3, after a courageous struggle with pancreatic cancer. He had dedicated 47 years to public education in Virginia, including in Rappahannock County, where he was a principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent of schools. He retired in 2010, although he remained active in county affairs.
Just three months ago, Dr. Chappell was a guest speaker at Rappahannock County’s Annual Martin Luther King Jr., observance at the Little Washington Theatre, where for the first time he shared his experiences of growing up a teenager in the segregated 1950s and 60s and how he was impacted by “the inequalities personally.”