J.E.R. ‘Bob’ Chilton leaves lasting legacy in Rockwall community and beyond

J.E.R. ‘Bob’ Chilton leaves lasting legacy in Rockwall community and beyond
Photo of J.E.R. “Bob” Chilton by Gustav Schmiege III, shared with permission by Anne Chilton.

ROCKWALL, TX (Sept. 28, 2021) The Rockwall community mourns the loss of J.E.R. “Bob” Chilton, namesake of the Rockwall YMCA, whose life was taken Sept. 26 following an automobile accident near his home in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The phrase “Renaissance man” echoes throughout our community, as friends and associates search for adequate words to describe the man who was an artist, photographer, sailor, businessman, investor, philanthropist, husband and father with a passion for croquet – but most of all, for giving generously of his time, talents, and wealth to make the world a better place.

James Edward Robert Chilton III once said he likes to invest in the future. And that’s exactly what he did back in 2012 when he gifted $2.5 million to the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. It is the second largest donation the Y has ever received in its 130 plus-year history and allowed for substantial capital improvements to the Rockwall County YMCA – now the J.E.R Chilton YMCA at Rockwall.  With Chilton’s donation, the Rockwall Y increased the size of its facility by more than 12,000 square feet, adding improvements and updates that have shaped the Y into a first-class fitness center.

“I was so lucky to call Bob Chilton my friend,” said Bonnie LaVielle, former Executive Director of the J.E.R. Chilton YMCA (2012-2018). “In my 30 year career with the YMCA, I’ve never met a more generous man. Bob and his wife, Missy, were involved in the building process from breaking ground to completion of the facility. What a blessing to our community and what an honor it is to have known such a wonderful man.”

Chilton grew up swimming at the YMCA and continued to support the organization in his later years. In the 1990s, he made major donations to the Rockwall YMCA and the White Rock YMCA. He was a strong supporter of the Y because he firmly believed in the values it teaches – values like honesty, integrity, responsibility, and good sportsmanship.

The health and fitness advocate was also an award-winning photographer, shooting sites from all over the world. Some of his pictures grace the walls of the Rockwall YMCA. His book The Lightness of Darkness (released in 2017) captures “the dark side” of day through many awe-inspiring full-color photographs taken by Chilton. Many of these images reveal his passion for travel and competitive sports, and Chilton was known for his croquet and sailing images which captured the human competitive spirit from viewpoints many would often miss. In fact, Chilton was a champion sailor and an avid croquet player. He won multiple Masters Singles and Double Championships, and was inducted into the United States Croquet Hall of Fame. He also served as past president of the Croquet Foundation of America.

“Forgive me, but I wanted to share with my Facebook friends the thrill of winning in a tournament of 66 players when you are the oldest one swinging a mallet. 1st place: doubles; 2nd place: singles; 1st place: Grand Masters” ~ Bob Chilton’s Facebook post from Nov. 12, 2018.

Chilton loved to sail and was one of the founding members of the Rush Creek Yacht Club, established in Heath in 1969. At 46 years old, he was one of the oldest participants in the 1979 Lightning World Championships on Lake Ray Hubbard (most of the sailors in that race were in their mid-20s). In 1990, Chilton made a transatlantic crossing on his 100-foot yacht, Royal Eagle II, in an attempt to break a record. Chilton, along with Rockwall-area sailors Bryan Davis and Rusty Jackson, made their voyage using the route pioneered by Christopher Columbus from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands to the West Indies in 13 days and six hours – just shy of the record-setting 12.5 days set by a similar yacht. During the journey, Chilton and his crew experienced 30-foot waves and no one was able to eat on tables or sleep in bunks for a majority of the voyage.

JER “Bob Chilton’ on a sail aboard his lightning sailboat, Horizon Job, prior to the Lightning World Championships on Lake Ray Hubbard in 1979. Photo is shared from “Images of America: Heath” a photographic history by Austin Wells.

In today’s Board of Managers meeting for the J.E.R. Chilton YMCA, Senior Minister at First Christian Church Rockwall Mark Irons said, “I really only met Bob Chilton once for a significant visit, and that was at the groundbreaking for the Y’s new building…He was very unassuming, quiet – and yet he had a presence – a very powerful presence about him,” he said.  He added that his first impression of Bob was as a ‘Renaissance man.’

“The J.E.R. Chilton YMCA is his lasting legacy,” Irons said. “We, who are in this room, are his lasting legacy. Each of you, is his lasting legacy. And that’s powerful.”

Chilton is survived by his wife Missy, son Bill, and his granddaughter Jaclyn.

By Austin Wells and Dawn Redig, Blue Ribbon News. Photos are by Blue Ribbon News or courtesy photos. 

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