During his 101st birthday party, Robert Dyer sat behind a red and white cake while members of the McDonogh 35 High School choir sang and Adelle Bergman of the Belleville Assisted Living Community showered him with birthday cards. The celebration took place on Dec. 6, and throughout it all, Dyer kept up a steady patter of wry comments and jokes.
“He’s a hoot,” Darlen Reuter said, shaking her head at Dyer. As a fellow resident of Belleville, she must know.
Dyer’s comments were mostly rated “G,” or “PG.” The choir was composed of high school students after all, students from the very school from which he had graduated over 80 years ago. But, there was that one about the husband coming home to find a man under his bed.
“I noticed, all these presents, and nobody gave me any money!” Dyer joked. But he also spoke about Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to China, and asked about the Chinese space program, which had recently made news.
Dyer’s mother was strict, pulling his ears when he was a boy and his two sisters had tattled on him. But unlike his father, who didn’t believe his son needed any more education than he himself had, which was little enough, his mother pushed Dyer to go to college, offering him help if he did and the threat of paying room and board if he did not.
He arrived at Tuskegee University with $29 and a suitcase, and graduated from there in 1940. Then in December of 1941, America entered the World War II, and Dyer was inducted into the army in 1942 in New Jersey at Fort Dix.
Dyer served four years, and is honored as a World War II veteran. The National World War II Museum had sent many of the birthday cards he had received.
Dyer spent the remainder of the ’40s in New York City, the Washington Heights and Harlem. This was important time to him, and he talked at length about it. While he was there, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was elected to represent Harlem in Congress, the first African-American congressman from New York. He had run on civil rights platform and became a powerful figure in Washington, D.C.
Dyer worked at the YMCA in Harlem, the only one open to African-Americans in the city. After that, he went upstate to work in the VA Hospital in Montrose. He retired in 1975 and moved back to New Orleans.
As a child, Dyer was taken by his mother took him to church every Sunday in a horse and buggy, and she quizzed him about the sermon on the way home, punishing him if she decided he hadn’t paid sufficient attention. Some part of it must have stayed with him.
He began to feel a stronger connection to the church in his 40s, and that connection has continued to this day. He feels that his relationship to God has been the most important part of his life. When asked what he has learned in his century and a year on earth, he thought and declined to give advice, saying only that the Lord has been good to him.
Article written by J. Scott Farrin. Article sourced from nola.com.