Growing up with Brother George- Hunter Cobb

My first memory of George is one of my very first living memories. It was from a trip to Florida when I was three and George was six. I remember getting into a bathtub in the hotel by standing on a coconut which George held for me.

Growing up with George as my older brother, I’m only now looking over all the ways in which I followed in his footsteps—from planting a row of radishes (They didn’t grow too well in the woods.), to taking up a brass instrument (he the trombone, me the cornet), to learning all kinds of games including canasta, chess, and bridge-which he generally taught me how to play and then usually beat me at, to going away to school (George School, no less), to studying Russian then going to Russia.

On the matter of games, George would get very involved. For a while his passion was chess. He read books about chess and wanted to become a chess master. Later it was bridge. He was reading books and Charles Goren’s and others bridge columns in the newspapers. Of course, with bridge you need other players, and this was a challenge. I remember at least once, maybe twice, we went to play at the bridge club of the country club near Roanoke, VA, which our parents had joined so we would have a place to go swimming. Here we were: George must have been 16 and I was 13 and we showed up to play bridge with all these “old people,” who must be super expert bridge players. I was quite nervous. But we ended up holding our own. I think George had fun. I survived.

One of the most important areas for me where I followed his lead, was in chemistry. George got interested in chemistry and built a handsome chemistry table on which to do experiments, with shelves for chemicals and glassware, etc. He coated half of the table surface with waterglass, and the other half with paraffin, to protect the table from different kinds of chemicals. A couple of years later, I followed suit, although my chemistry table was much more pedestrian.

In recent years, George and I didn’t have a lot of contact but when we did talk, he always showed a genuine interest in what I was up to and despite our political differences would listen as I expounded on things and ask questions, clearly curious and wanting to understand my thinking.

One further note. We didn’t get a television in the house until perhaps 1957. (Before that George and I would have to walk over to the neighbors, the Parsons, in order to watch “The Hardy Boys.”) The ostensible reason we got a TV is because Whit, our father, was getting his PhD in statistics at UNC and was doing something new at the time—taking a course, or maybe he was helping teach it, via educational TV. It was on statistics with Fred Mosteller of Harvard. I remember watching snatches of the class—the first TV show we ever watched in our own house! Evidently, it was much more captivating for George, as he went on to become an expert in the field. Dr. Mosteller was one of his professors at Harvard.  

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