National Geographic : 1968 Apr
Robert VFleming 1890-i967 By MELVILLE BELL GROSVENOR, LL.D., Sc.D. Editor-in-Chief and Chairman of the Board, National Geographic Society THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC So ciety, in its 80-year history, has had many great Americans on its Board of Trustees, and to their wise counsel and de voted service your Society owes, in large part, its success in increasing and diffusing geo graphic knowledge throughout the world. None served with greater dedication, distinc tion, and dynamic ability than Robert Vedder Fleming, Trustee since 1929, Treasurer since 193 5, and Vice President since 195 8, who died last November 28 at the age of 77. For half his lifetime Robert V. Fleming played a vital role in the affairs of our Society. No major expansion or new educa tional project was undertaken without his always-ready advice. The senior officers and editors of the Na tional Geographic Society receive much credit for its growth. But without Bob Fleming to protect and nurture our resources we could never have accomplished all that we have. In the words of a resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees last January 25: "As Treasurer of the Society and Chairman of its Finance Committee, Dr. Fleming de voted his ability and efforts to assuring that the Society's resources and facilities always kept pace with its phenomenal growth and expanding goals. When Robert Fleming be came Treasurer in 1935, the Society's mem bership numbered slightly more than one mil lion; at his death its rolls listed more than six million members. His sound management of its finances helped make funds available for greatly increased research, exploration, and public service grants, for new publications 526 and the Society's entry into television, for ten fold expansion of the School Bulletin service, for inauguration of educational filmstrips, for huge presses, and for worthy new buildings to house the Society's expanding activities." I vividly recall my first meeting with Bob Fleming: I drew him as a golf partner. He was only in his mid-thirties, but as President of the Riggs National Bank in Washington, he was already on his way toward nationwide fame in banking circles. As a golfer, he played formidably in the mid-70's. I trailed him bad ly in age, confidence, and skill, but that day I played over my head and we won. Always competitive, Bob was delighted. Our friend ship grew. Soon he seemed like an uncle to me. Strong Personality Inspired Confidence Bob had the stocky strength of a Winston Churchill, and he inspired the same kind of confidence. To me he always seemed perma nent and invincible. During the dark financial depression of the early 1930's, Bob Fleming was in the van guard of Washington banking officials who organized to weather the crisis of financial failures. When panicky depositors began a wild run on one loan association, Bob and a group of fellow bankers appeared on the scene. "All your deposits are safe," they told the knots of fearful people in the lobby. Meanwhile, guards had begun to unload sacks of currency from an armored car. The bankers' show of confidence-and the money's timely arrival-immediately stopped the run. The crowd melted away, and that loan association still flourishes in Washington.