Hatfield Point Funeral Brings Back Memories of Bob Nolan

I had expected more Southern New Brunswick country music entertainers to attend a funeral in Hatfield Point two Saturdays ago.

The name in the obituaries that week filled me with a sense of deja vu: Robert Nobles, his place of birth, Hatfield Point. According to a brief bio, although born at the point his family had moved with him to Massachusetts when he was four. He was 89 when he died in Holliston, MA on Oct. 14 making the year of his leaving N.B. 1921. Another Robert Nobles, a cousin it was explained to me, had lived with his grandparents at Hatfield Point from the time he was three until he was 12. The Point’s Baptist Church from which the service was held overlooks the beautiful Belleisle from a high hill,

This Bob Nobles with a brother younger brother Earle had left there a year earlier in1920, to live with an aunt near Boston in that same state. Joining their father in Arizona a years later they found their family name had been legally changed to Nolan. Bob claimed his father had it done because Nolan sounded more ‘western’. That Robert Nolan would grow up to become a founding member of the Pioneer Trio, later the Sons Of The Pioneers. The other two singer songwriters were Tim Spencer and Leonard Slye, a name Hollywood studios signing him would change to Dick Weston, then Roy Rogers.

Bob Nolan would eventually become internationally famous for penning such western classics as Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Cool Water, Touch of God’s Hand along with scores of others including two of my all-time favourites: Song Of The Bandit and Echoes From The Hills. Many of the songs would be used in the 79 movies in which he and the Sons of The Pioneers would back western action stars of the 1930’s to 1950’s: stars of the calibre of Charles Starrett, Ken Maynard, Gene Autry, Dick Forin and, of course, Roy Rogers.

A study two decades ago published a statement that Cool Water at that time had been recorded by more different groups and solo artists than any other song. Those included blues artists, rock ‘n roll bands, jazz ensembles and choral groups. In a letter to an aunt in Hatfield Point Bob wrote that when he composed that song he was thinking of the cold, cl;ear spring on his grandparent’s farm. What a claim to fame for this province! But, as so often, we waited to milk the fame of it.

In the 1980’s when our provincial parliament was planning a Come Home To NB Year I suggested Bob’s wife, his brother and daughter: some of our most famous ex-patriots were being invited, all expenses paid. I was assured they would given a priority and lent them biographies, newspaper and magazine articles I’d collected. Bob had died on June 16, 1980. They assured me they would be returned. When I checked two months later I was told they hadn’t been able to locate even one of the three. With just six phone calls in 24 hours I had located and talked with all three. When I called the Come Home Committee spokesperson I was told it was too late, all funds had been allocated. Although I made requests I never saw my loaned items again.

Every country music history book written until a half decade ago, listed Bob as born in New Brunswick and Roy Rogers on his weekly TV show often said Bob had been born just a few miles from Saint John New Brunswick, Canada. When I asked his brother Earle if he was sure they had been born at Hatfield Point he said he was sure he had been but on a visit to the Point in 1938 he’d heard a suggestion that Bob might have been born somewhere else. Winnipeg perhaps. Bob, however, when he’d asked him, said he’d no recollection of living anywhere in Canada but Hatfield Point.

An Elizabeth MacDonald in BC, engaged by the University of North Carolina to collect details of Bob Nolan’s life and to assemble all the songs written by him, in talking with relatives was told of the rumour. Regretfully I mentioned Winnipeg when she asked me. She then hired a professional researcher who found Bob’s birth certificate dated April 8, 1908, Winnipeg. He’d always thought he’d been born on April Fools’ Day. When Bob was elected to the International Songwriter’s Hall of Fame a half decade ago the mayor of Winnipeg and assorted Manitoba dignitaries were there to take bows. New Brunswick was never mentioned.

The Bob Nobles buried in the Point’s Bayview Cemetery on Oct 23, had led a very interesting life, as well. He returned every summer with his parents to holiday at the Point and continued that ritual with his own family. His wife, Lillian J. (McKellar) whom he married in Scotland during the Second World War, in 2006, was buried in the same family plot. A Rev. Boyd who had been pastor of Hatfield Baptist for a dozen years in a eulogy, spoke of Bob’s interesting military career. He had, in one phase of it, manned a listening station in Scotland, part of a code breaking team monitoring German U-Boat radio trans missions. When discovered he was Canadian born, however, he was immediately replaced. Evidently it was thought Canada harboured terrorists even then!

Most of his family had made the trip up. It was one of the warmest, most family oriented funerals I’ve ever attended. And there was lots of talk about the other Robert ‘Bob Nolan’ Nobles, as well.