Robert Shelton Earle (SM/Sgt, USAF, ret.), 81, died quietly at his home in Galveston, Texas, on 22 August 2008. Born 8 June 1927 at his grandparents’ house at 2008 Valmar Street in Little Rock, Arkansas, he was the only child of Haywood Shelton and Marion Idelle (Thomas) Earle, but was raised by his grandparents, Augustus Haywood and Janie (Keesee) Earle.
A week before his death, Mr. Earle told a close friend that he had “had a colorful life as a child,” and remembered tap-dancing on stage with his father, who was in vaudeville with his third wife for a time. Earle’s aunt said that his parents “won every jitterbug contest in Louisiana for a while,” and his mother was a beauty queen. Being an extrovert was bred into Mr. Earle’s genes.
He attended Little Rock Senior High School (now Central High School) but quit to enlist in the US Army during WWII. He was discharged after the war in 1946 and worked as a shoe repairman. He married Lillian Jean Young in Pulaski County, Arkansas, on 21 June 1947. He enlisted in the USAF in 1948, first working as a recruiter in Grand Prairie, Texas, and later serving in the Korean War. During his time in the service, he earned his GED in addition to completing some college and military courses, as well as being a star as a fast-pitch softball player.
He served in Washington, Japan, Korea, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Bermuda, North Dakota, Maine, California, and Greenland. He worked as an air traffic control tower chief at various SAC bases, and retired as an Air Traffic Control Superintendent. Upon his retirement in 1967, he returned to Little Rock and was a sales representative for various chemical companies before starting his own business.
In 1975, he and his first wife divorced, after 28 years of marriage and two children. He then married Stella (Lowry) Taylor and moved to West Helena, Arkansas.
Mr. Earle became a proud and enthusiastic member of the Airways and Air Communications Service (AACS
) Alumni Association
, attending annual conventions all over the country to enjoy the company of many Air Force friends and comrades.
An avid fisherman, Mr. Earle decided many years ago that Galveston was the place he wanted to spend the rest of his life, and, although he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration which left him blind, he enjoyed a full and active social life with his many friends. But his greatest pleasure was fishing on the Texsun and Texsun II with Captains John H. Williams, Jr., and John A. "Johnny Boy" Williams, crew members Robert "Shane" Steber and Dan Bunday, and friends, including Patrick Lemire and Buck Rutherford. He was once quoted in the Galveston County Daily News as saying “There’s nothing funnier than having two blind people arguing over who has the biggest fish.”
Mr. Earle was also a life member of the Galveston Gardening Club and a member of the Galveston Historical Foundation. In later life, he was assisted ably by a very special person, Dottie Epperson, with help by caregivers provided by Kristen Carlson’s Right at Home company. In the last year of his life, he also dealt with congestive heart failure and lung cancer, yet, as always, he managed to enjoy life to the fullest.
He is survived by his former wives, Lillian Jean (Young) Neal of Little Rock, Arkansas, and Stella (Lowry) Taylor Earle of West Helena, Arkansas; his daughter, Carolyn Earle Billingsley and his ex-son-in-law, James L. Billingsley, both of Saline County, Arkansas; his son, Robert James Earle and daughter-in-law Olga T. Earle, of Medina, Washington; six grandchildren: Jimmy D. Billingsley (Carmen), Amy E. Buquoi (Mike), Robert Earle “Robbie” Billingsley (Andrea), Sarah C. Wood (Brent)—all of Saline County, Arkansas; Maia C. Earle of Crested Butte, Colorado, and David C. Earle (Sara) of Seattle, Washington; and nine great grandchildren: Jeffrey Aaron Billingsley, Carrie Elizabeth Bentley, Amber Michelle Billingsley, Lillian “Lilly” Kaia Wood, Trulie Ashcom Billingsley, Jase Carter Billingsley, James Nathan Atchley Billingsley, Caledonia “Callie” Isabella Wood, all of Saline County, Arkansas, and Devlan A. Ostrum of Seattle, Washington. Also surviving are his maternal aunt, Amelia Anderson (Jesse) of Dallas, Texas, and his close friend and cousin-in-law Alfred M. Cook of Little Rock, Arkansas.
A memorial service celebrating his life will be conducted by Dr. Ray Meador of First Baptist Church of Galveston at Malloy & Son Funeral Home at 3:00 pm, Thursday, 28 August 2008. From about 4:30–6:00 all family, friends, and acquaintances are invited to Mr. Earle’s home for light refreshments and drinks, and to swap tall tales about his exploits.
Mr. Earle’s final wishes were for his ashes to be scattered in the Gulf of Mexico from Captain Johnnie’s boat, which will leave the dock at 6:30 pm for all who wish to be a part of this ritual. Mr. Earle’s ashes will be scattered in the waters of the Gulf at sunset.
A veteran’s tombstone will be erected in Pine Crest Cemetery, Saline County, Arkansas, close to the graves of the grandparents who raised him.
Mr. Earle requested that friends might choose to make a donation in his name to the Galveston Garden Club, 3427 Avenue O, Galveston, TX 77550; (409) 763-0077, in lieu of flowers.