Not your typical neighbor
How many guys do you know who have installed a zipline to their backyard pool and regularly run their grandkids through a Ranger School obstacle course? Well, there’s Englewood’s Bob Carroll, for one. Oh yeah, and he admits that, “I’m probably the only person my age who goes tap dancing.” Yep, once a week he takes part in a tap group, The Tringali Tappers. “I’m the alpha male in a pack of ladies,” he says. But now he’s taken a fancy to ballroom dancing, especially “West Coast swing.” Ask him and he’ll demonstrate a few moves for you.
He bikes 90 to 100 miles a week, and he swims. He is certainly fit for his age – crowding 80 – and speaking of fit, he still fits into his old Army uniform, which happens to sport the insignia of a full bird Colonel. How many of us can match that?
You probably don’t have many other neighbors who have been on a first-name basis with the president of the United States. Well, when he was growing up, Bob was “Bobby” to Ike and Mamie Eisenhower. He’ll tell you all about it in his next book. (His first book deals with a particular specialty of his: leadership.)
But these vignettes are not what truly sets Bob Carroll apart from many of his fellow retirees. What stands out about Bob is that he has had three separate careers in totally disparate fields … and been successful in all of them.
Bob was born in 1940 in Fort Benning, Georgia, a U.S. Army base. He was the second of three sons of Ruth and Paul Carroll, and his dad became a VIP in his own right. Paul T. Carroll saw combat duty as a Lieutenant Colonel in World War II and ended up as chief of the correspondence section on General Eisenhower’s staff. During the Korean War, Eisenhower brought him and his family to Paris, France, where he was Ike’s chief military assistant at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe). And when Eisenhower became president in 1953, he brought Colonel Carroll to Washington D.C. as the nation’s first White House Staff Secretary. A year later Ike promoted him to Brigadier General.
Bob was a teenager when his father was in the White House and got to see that historic building in a fashion few other citizens did … and yes, he did sit behind the desk in the Oval Office once when the president was out of town. His dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 44 while on duty at the White House, and Bob went through a period of personal trial. He decided he’d give West Point a try–partly to honor his father and partly because he didn’t yet know what else he wanted to do. He was given a presidential appointment to West Point as the son of a deceased veteran and entered as a cadet in the fall of 1958. Academically he was in the upper third of his class at the Point, but in the fitness programs–swimming, boxing, wrestling and gymnastics–he ranked No. 3 out of about 800 classmates. He graduated in 1962–between wars–as a 2nd Lieutenant and was assigned, of all places, to his birthplace: Fort Benning, for airborne, ranger and basic infantry officers training.
In 1963 he was assigned to his first post at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, where he spent 2-1/2 years and rose to First Lieutenant. Posh duty, yes, but he made up for that by volunteering to go to Vietnam, where the U.S. was in a shooting war. Why volunteer?
“I wanted to serve my country,” he says, “and in the military there is an ethos that you go to the sound of the gun. I wanted to prove myself in combat, as any soldier would.” He was promoted to Captain en route to Vietnam and spent 8 months near Nha Trang as advisor to the Vietnamese Ranger School and then 10 months near Bien Hoa as a member of the 173rd Airborne, where he was in charge of a company of about 130 riflemen and an elite group known as the Long Range Recon Patrol Platoon. Those were the GIs who, in 6-man teams, rode in low-flying helicopters far out past enemy lines in the sweltering Nam jungles to scout out targets for follow-up offensive action by the Brigade. “My men were incredibly fearless soldiers,” he says. “If they weren’t spotted by Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army troops, it was a good day. If they were spotted, we had to pull them out, which was tricky to say the least.” Bob and most of his crews survived. He himself was a tough commander, nicknamed “The Axe” by his men because he court-martialed two of his soldiers caught smoking pot on a security outpost.
He rotated back to the U.S. in 1967 to be posted to (where else?) Fort Benning. This began an extended period of graduate-level education and instruction for Bob Carroll. In the next five years he (1) was sent to West Point to teach leadership courses for the cadets, (2) earned a master’s degree in sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, (3) got another master’s degree, this one in public administration at Auburn University and (4) went through the Air Force Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama. He met his wife to be, Betty Sue, in 1971 and they were married in 1972–just before Bob was rotated back to a now peaceful Vietnam. He was attached to the American Embassy in Saigon, where he coordinated operations to visit crash sites, looking for the bodies of American soldiers killed in the war.
From 1979 until 1983, Bob served as chief of the Leadership Division of the U.S. Army at the Pentagon and spent part of that time in a military think tank, the Concepts Analysis Agency. He got his silver eagles at age 41 and two years later retired, the youngest man from his West Point years to do so as a Colonel.
But he now had a wife and two sons, KC and Cody, and he was ready for a new career. “I put out my resume as a retired trained killer, but didn’t get any bites,” he jokes. He did find employment in the banking field, first as vice president and director of human resources and then president of a small savings bank in Buffalo, and later as senior VP of Bank One in Youngstown, Ohio. While in Youngstown he completed the famed Advanced Management Program at Harvard University, giving him the kind of strategic and tactical knowledge of business that mirrored his strategic and tactical military knowhow. And after 8 years in the financial world, he stepped into a third career.
With his extensive leadership skills and experience and his corporate background, he was an ideal candidate for consulting work, and he found the right company in the Senn Delaney Leadership Consulting Group. They patterned their workshops for senior executives and upcoming middle managers after Werner Erhardt’s “EST” program, which puts people in touch with who they are rather than whom they portray. “Our program was about accountability and team building,” Bob says, rather than the competitive, political infighting that is often found in companies, whether large or small. They had an impressive list of clients: Bristol Myers, Squibb, QVC, Raytheon/Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed Martin, Rockwell International, the Tennessee Valley Authority and McDonald’s Restaurants, to name a few. Guess you could say “Wow!” to that.
Bob and Betty Sue came to Englewood and settled on Manasota Key in 1995, first as snowbirds and five years later as full-timers. Sadly, Betty Sue passed away, a victim of cancer, in 2016. Bob keeps in contact with military veterans by volunteering at Tidewell Hospice, presenting service pins to veterans there. He still finds enough time away from his vigorous fitness regimen to consult with community leadership programs around the state. And for the last 8 years he has run some leadership workshops for visiting Chinese business people through the West Point Visitors Center. That’s not your usual retirement pastime.
But then, Bob’s not your usual retiree. You could say he’s an exception … or make that “exceptional.”
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: email@example.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.