A Life Remembered: George Webbere - a veteran, a family man, a gardener and a talent

May 12, 2014

George Webbere, 96, died on April 11, 2014, after a remarkable life serving his country and his community.
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After retiring from military and government work in the mid-1970s, George Webbere needed something to do. He had the garden to tend in the spring and summer. But when it turned cold, one of the things Webbere did was produce radio programs for the blind, including a story hour - one that became syndicated across the country throughout the Radio Reading Network.

NARRATION: “The next mystery program is the story Venus Fly Trap by Ruth Randell…."

That’s Charlie Webbere, narrating.

NARRATION: "Daphne and Merl were old friends, but they hadn't seen each other in years. Widowed now, Daphne had come to live in Merl's neighborhood… As soon as Daphne had taken off her hat and put it on Merl's bed, Merl picked it up and rammed it on her own yellow curls. It was a red felt hat…"

“The blind were people he wanted to help," said Webbere's daughter, Sandra. "He was an avid reader. If you look around the house you see book cases hiding behind every door. And he liked plays. As a little boy he was very good in plays. He was very good at memorizing plays.”

NARRATION: "It's a funny thing, dear -- looking at herself in the dressing table mirror. But anyone seeing the two of us, any outsider…"

"He would do different voices for different people," Sandra said.

NARRATION: "'You had all those husbands and children.' 'I only had two husbands and three children,' said Daphne. 'You know what I mean,' said Merl. And Daphne standing beside her friend…'

"And so he ended up doing these recordings that had so much personality,” Sandra said.

NARRATION: "Let's have a sherry and put our feet up. I have some of that walnut brownie…"

“My dad was amazing," Sandra said. "He had nine children in the family in Wisconsin. During the Depression he had to hitchhike to New York. He had to work any job and he did. But somebody recognized he was very talented, so he worked for the advertising agency where my mother worked. And he would bring mother a rose. Every week he would put a rose on her desk so she would fall in love with him. And he waited 6 months to ask her out. And that was about 1940.”

“We both worked together in the building there," said Webbere's wife of 72 years, Henriette, who everyone calls Mary. "And somehow things happened. Haha.”

The couple eloped at the start of World War II -- a war that took Webbere out of advertising and into the military, where he would build a career. He served in the Philippines with the 33rd Infantry Division during the war, and then he stayed in the Army, working in both Germany and Japan when the US and other nations occupied those countries. In the Korean War, Webbere worked on casualty reporting, and he was one of the principal officers in the exchange of prisoners of war with North Korea.

“And I found pictures downstairs of the exchange of the prisoners of war,” Sandra said.

Webbere served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, retiring in 1962 as a lieutenant colonel. After retiring, he was a U.S. civil service employee with the U.S. Army Logistics Command in Washington, DC.
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Sandra says her father also developed and wrote the first US Army casualty reporting system for nuclear warfare.

“They and him working on writing and publishing on some of the findings of that," she said. "It was kind of hush hush. He worked on several projects of that on that point. And he was working on keeping things organized on what the projects were and keeping things under lock and ket for awhile.”

Webbere retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1962, and he continued to work for the military but as a civil service employee until 1974, when he retired at age 56. A year later, Webbere visited Cape Cod for the first time while taking Sandra to visit colleges in Vermont. He never wanted to leave.

“We drove here and it was dark one night," Sandra said. "And the next morning we woke up in Orleans, and we drove around to the beach and met some people and decided that we were going to buy land. So in two days time, my dad and my mother purchased this land for $6,000."

By all accounts, Webbere loved Orleans. He soon joined what's called the Orleans Coffee Club, a nearly 60-year-old men's group that meets weekly for coffee,  conversation and friendship.

GROUP SINGING: "God Bless America..."

At each meeting, after the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of God Bless America, a club member speaks on a specific topic. The talk is followed by a group discussion, and Webbere's friend George Trimble says Webbere loved the discussion and friendly debate.

"We just have good fellowship," Trimble said. "We have our own speakers built in. We talk about various subjects. The rule is no religion or politics. Politics is tough to keep away because everything's political. It's men who just enjoy getting together."

Webbere's friend and fellow coffee club member Rusty Funnell says that Webbere was the oldest member of the club.

"I'm glad you could come today because George was the senior member of this club in the number of years he was here," Funnell said. "1975, after it had been running for 20 years. And he brought me into this when we first moved here in 1992, and it's been a wonderful experience to be with these guys."

At a recent club meeting, members recalled stories about Webbere. They talked about his interests and his passions, and club chairman Larry Hayward read Webbere's obituary, so everyone could get a sense of what he'd done in life.

Club member Paul Kelly says Webbere always had something to say, and it always was worth listening to.

"He had a very inspiring comment the last meeting we were both at," Kelly said. :He was in his 90s, right, 96. And he said, 'I'm not done yet. I still have more to do.' And I've come to realize what I have to do at this point in my life might be even more imprint than a lot of the other things I've done in my life. And he was really talking about taking care of Mary, his wife. But it really taught me about love and commitment and the older we get we rely on each other, but we have something to pass on."

George Webbere and Henriette Mary Webbere, of Orleans, were married for 72 years and had two children, Douglas and Sandra.
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People who knew Webbere say he loved his wife, Mary, and they were wonderful together. Before he died, he wrote a song for her, a song he hoped the British singer Adele would one day sing. Sandra found the song written on a few pieces of paper when she was going through her dad's things.

“Don’t go alone, come along with me," she reads. "You need me and and I need you. An endless time of tomorrows. Lonely as a cloud without you. We must do what we can with the time we have. What cost of memories lost?”

George Webbere died on April 11, just a few days after suffering an aneurism while doing his favorite activity -- working in his garden. He collapsed while raking pine straw amidst his rhododendron trees, the hollies, dogwoods and hemlocks he planted. His daughter says he didn't suffer, and he was never sick. He was 96 years old.