Robert Ruark: A Local
Controversy gets attention.
Problematic parent-child relationships are relatable to many. Being
called “sometimes glad, sometimes sad, and often mad - - but almost
always provocative,” by The New York Times usually means that
you have a good, solid chance of being remembered throughout the
course of history, especially if you’re a chain-smoking, son of two
alcoholics writer with a book banned by two governments and a list
of admirers that includes President Richard M. Nixon and Groucho
However, in the case of
journalist and writer Robert Ruark, history chose to practically
erase him from its story. The reasoning behind this is debatable.
Perhaps it was his incredible similarity to Ernest Hemingway, or
maybe it was because he came off as arrogant to a great number of
people. Whatever the reason, he was an ingenious writer whose work
is deserving of remembrance, even if you feel that the man himself
On December 29th, 1915, Robert
and Charlotte Ruark welcomed their son, Robert Chester Ruark, Jr.
into their world in
Wilmington, North Carolina. Living in a lovely
brick home on Market Street, the family was quite content with money
in Robert’s earliest years.
Edward Adkins' House
While he was born in
Wilmington, an incredibly significant part of his childhood was
spent in nearby
Southport, North Carolina at the home of Edward Adkins, Robert’s
maternal grandfather. The home was a haven for Ruark, who once said,
“That was not just a house, that house was me.”
Adkins was a former
river pilot who spent a great deal
of time with Robert in the outdoors, thus causing young Ruark to
develop a love of hunting, traveling and sportsmanship. Adkins also
enjoyed reading, which was another trait that was passed along to
his grandson. “I was reading Shakespeare for fun at age ten,” Ruark
once said. This is quite believable considering that he graduated
from New Hanover High School at only twelve years of age.
Adkins was without a doubt the
single most influential person in Robert’s life. His time spent in
that Southport home had a large impact on his career as a writer.
The most well known example of this is the novel “The Old Man and
the Boy,” a story that is about Ruark’s childhood. The author’s note
states, “Anybody who reads this book is bound to realize that I had
a real fine time as a kid.” This alone is to enough to assume that
these times spent in Southport were among the happiest that Ruark
State Historical Marker
Happiness was something that
was rare to Ruark outside of his Southport summer home. He was a
loner, explaining, “I revel, I literally wallow in loneliness, which
is pretty Irish of me.” The Great Depression caused his parents to
lose the vast majority of their money. As a result, they began to
rely heavily on drinking, eventually becoming alcoholics. During
their hard financial times, they often stayed with Captain Adkins at
After finishing high school,
Ruark went on to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
where he earned an A.B. in Journalism. He then went on to work for
two small newspapers in North Carolina: The Hamlet News Messenger,
and then later on The Sanford Herald.
In 1936, Robert decided to
move to Washington D.C. where he began to work for The Washington
Daily News as a copy boy. It was in D.C. that he met an interior
designer named Virginia Webb. The two were happily married in 1938.
However, Ruark’s fall into alcoholism was a huge weight on their
relationship and the couple divorced in 1963.
During the Second World War,
Ruark joined the U.S. Navy and served as a gunnery officer. After
the war he returned to the world of journalism as a columnist. These
writings were eventually turned into two books: I Didn’t Know It
Was Loaded (1948) and One For The Road (1949).
At this point in time, Ruark
was a fairly well established writer. He made a decision to go on an
adventure… a big adventure. It had long been an aspiration of his to
journey to Africa, and this is exactly what he did. Multiple safaris
provided inspiration for Ruark’s later work, including the
documentary-style film African Adventure, which he wrote,
directed and narrated.
The novel Something of
Value was also inspired by his time in Africa. The book was
banned from Kenya by both the British and the native Kenyan
governments because of its content regarding the Mau Mau Uprising.
Regardless, the novel became his first bestseller in 1955 and was
later turned into a movie of the same name. Ruark defended his work,
explaining that Something of Value, “is not a pretty book,
nor was it written for the pre-bedtime amusement of small children.”
Ruark’s later years were spent
primarily between Europe and North Carolina in an attempt to avoid
New York City society.
It was during this time that a
great number of the locals in Wilmington and Southport came to
dislike Ruark, many claiming that the fame went to his head. Ruark
didn’t really do much to disprove this believe. After purchasing a
Rolls Royce in London (one of only two in existence, at the time),
he had the vehicle shipped to New York and drove it down the coast
to North Carolina where he was often seen rolling around his former
It was also believed that
Ruark didn’t properly care for his parents, his mother in
particular. After he received a great deal of money from his
writings, his mother would often write to him asking for financial
assistance. Ruark was reluctant to help after a while. His parents
were still alcoholics and he didn’t feel that it was his
responsibility to care for them if they wouldn’t care for
Eventually, Ruark returned to
Europe where he lived in his London and Barcelona apartments until
his death in London on July 9th, 1965, which was caused by
complications of cirrhosis of the liver. He was buried in Palamos,
located just north of Barcelona.
The home of Edward Adkins
still remains in historic downtown Southport. It has recently been
turned into the Robert Ruark Inn. It is operated by Ruark enthusiast
David Gale, who says, “ For anyone who is a fan of hunting or the
outdoors, his books are just the best!”
Although it’s been over 40
years since his death, his work is finally beginning to regain some
recognition. On April 19th, 2009, Robert Ruark will be inducted into
the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame.
Most people have never heard
the name Robert Ruark, and even fewer people know anything about
him, but the fact remains that he was a talented writer who is
deserving of his place in history.
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