“He was a man of his word, and a handshake to him was as a good as a legalized document,” Laura Lineberger said of her late father and Lincolnton native Robert Lineberger, who died Saturday from melanoma at age 91.
The 1936 Lincolnton High School graduate and former U.S. Army Air Force captain “never met a stranger,” Laura told the Times-News Sunday evening.
Lineberger was the first Republican elected to the Lincoln County Board of County Commissioners. He was also a business and civic leader, and a hero of World War II, during which he “flew the hump,” carrying supplies across the world’s tallest mountains to Chinese forces battling the Japanese.
Lara Lineberger said her father lived nearly 10 decades as a “true Southern gentleman,” spreading his love to animals, family and all people, never hesitating to share the hundreds of stories that filled his lucid mind until the very end.
“He was old-school and opened doors and would stand up when a lady came to the table,” she said.
Because of his love for life and compassionate heart, everyone who met him wanted to adopt “Bob-Bob,” she said. His grandchildren’s friends even considered Robert to be one of their own grandfathers.
He particularly extended his generosity to the late Flo Robinson, a woman known locally for both her poverty and large charitable donation to area organizations and nonprofits upon her death.
“He would take them things at Christmas,” Laura said of Flo and her sister, who at the time, lived in a shack. Flo trusted Robert more than anyone else she knew, and even had him look after her suitcase full of money when she became sick, Laura said.
Following Flo’s death, Robert assisted in establishing the Flo Robinson Literary Competition, sponsored by the Arts Council of Lincoln County.
“He really cared about people and would have given them the shirt off his back,” Laura said.
Robert attended Lincolnton’s First United Methodist Church since birth, the same worship facility that his grandfather helped build years earlier, Laura said. His grandfather also established Lineberger Cotton, one of the oldest cotton mills in the region.
Robert’s Lincoln County roots grew deep as he dabbled in just about every committee, board and community realm that he could including helping with Boy Scouts, teaching Sunday school to adults and high school boys, serving on the Lincoln-Gaston Mental Health board and in the local Kiwanis Club.
Robert also had a hobby in history, particularly family history, collecting letters written by relatives as far back as the 1700s. In addition, he boasted a well-rounded education, entering Duke University at age 16, where he majored in English and Journalism. Following college graduation, and prior to entering the war, Robert even served time as a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution.
Jerry Cochrane, third-generation employee of Cochrane Furniture, remembered Robert as a “fine gentleman.” The two men once lived in the same city neighborhood, and both the Cochrane and Lineberger families remained close over the years.
Perhaps, Jerry’s fondest memories of his friend included his World War II tales and his days as a “hump” pilot, flying over Burma, China and India at age 22.
One particular night during the war, Robert and the other crew members had to evacuate their plane after the engine froze over the Chinese jungles.
“They were scared that if a barbaric group found them, they would be turned over to the wrong people,” Laura said.
She laughed as she relayed the story of how he later returned safely to the United States and urgently called home to tell his parents he survived the dangerous overseas mission.
After forcing the operator to call several different locations, he finally found his parents at the local movie theater.
The Chinese government later awarded Robert Lineberger honorary medals for his war actions. Lineberger’s picture and war story adorn one of the commemorative walls of the USS North Carolina Battleship in Wilmington.
“He loved his church and cared about his country,” Laura said. “He was just the best dad and husband.”
Robert is survived by two children, four grandchildren, one great-grandchild and 15-year-old dog Belle.
Receiving of the friends will be 6:30-8 p.m. today at First United Methodist Church in Lincolnton. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Tuesday.