Remembering The Life And Legacy Of The Late Baylor Student Felder Forbes, Part 1

Saturday, June 10, 2017 - by John Shearer

Baylor School student Rose Dallimore loves to go into the Felder Forbes Lounge by the Barks Hall library entrance.
 
“For me I go to study there almost every day,” the 11th-grader said during a recent interview at the school before classes let out for the summer. “It’s a quiet study space and I always sit in the soft chairs.”
 
This single room now used for studying and reading periodicals has a simply gorgeous view out the windows of the Tennessee River, Williams Island and Lookout and Elder mountains.
 
Despite that, Miss Dallimore also regularly finds herself looking at something inside the room – the portrait of lounge namesake Felder Frederick Forbes.
And that causes an additional inner glance of the proverbial kind for her.
 
The reason is that Felder Forbes was her great-uncle, a rising Baylor senior who was tragically killed from injuries suffered in a gun accident at his Lookout Mountain home in the summer of 1958.
 
“Whenever I look at his portrait, he looks like my younger brother (McCallie student Nathaniel Dallimore), and that’s something that’s impactful to me,” she said. “And he looks like my grandfather (Walter Forbes), his brother.”
 
Although she said she was unaware of much about Felder Forbes while she was a young child in New York, she has now learned his full story from her grandfather and others after moving to Chattanooga before enrolling in the sixth grade at Baylor. And that makes going into the lounge even more meaningful for her.           
 
“It’s a peaceful force for me and something nice to have, and it’s a connection to Baylor history,” she said.
 
Miss Dallimore is the third close relative of Felder Forbes to attend Baylor since his unfortunate death. Her cousins Eliza Caldwell and Jimmy Caldwell – grandchildren of Felder’s older sister, Bette Forbes Rayburn – also attended in recent years. But Miss Dallimore’s enrollment particularly seems to have brought about some closure or even opening up among the Walter Forbes family regarding the tragedy of long ago.
 
Her mother, Kate Forbes Dallimore, who has performed as an actress on Broadway, also openly talked about her uncle during the interview with her daughter, saying his life and death were little discussed in her younger years.
 
“I didn’t hear a lot about him growing up,” said Kate. “It was a very painful thing for the family. But since moving back here five years ago, I have heard more. A couple of times a year, someone will approach me at a Christmas party and say, ‘I was in school and in class with him.’ They speak so well of him and say what a hard time that was.”
 
Felder Forbes’ Baylor classmates Andy Cope, David Longley and Dr. Steve Sawrie of Chattanooga are three who remember him. During a separate interview, they recalled a likable student who was a friend of several classmates.
 
A detailed and articulate tribute to him in the Baylor yearbook during what would have been his senior year called him a “clean-strain” fighter.
 
“He was strong – strong in body, strong in mind, strong in moral fiber,” the unknown student writer said. “On the athletic fields, he was a fierce competitor, an undeniable force, a dreaded opponent, a wonderful team man. In the classroom Felder was a challenge to his teachers.
 
“Naturally endowed with a powerful intellect, he very early acquired an intellectual curiosity beyond his years; and wide, independent reading gave him a foundation for sound judgment, as well as a storehouse of theory and fact, upon which he unhesitatingly drew when taking a position with or against popular opinion or a teacher’s conclusion.”
 
The tribute also said his favorite club at Baylor was the Civil War Forum, and he took a special interest in Civil War history. Like the vast majority of white teenagers in Chattanooga in the late 1950s, his favorite side was the Confederacy, the yearbook said.
 
His older brother, Walter Forbes, recalled over the phone that his brother had many traits that he admired and wished he could emulate.
 
“He was a more equitable character than I was,” recalled Mr. Forbes, who was three years his senior and was close to him, despite the fact he earlier went to McCallie and later attended what is now Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut.
 
“He was a very special person. He was a good-looking guy, a natural leader and peaceful. He looked for ways to make things work and for people to understand each other and communicate.”
 
It was this diplomatic personality that led to Felder’s trying to bridge a gap between the boarding and day students at the school that in the late 1950s was all boys and offered a military curriculum.
 
Felder Forbes had become a friend of a boarding student from Valdosta, Ga., named Charlie Norwood, so not long after school was out for the summer, the young Mr. Forbes made plans to go spend some time with Mr. Norwood in South Georgia.
 
Classmate Mr. Longley remembered that an invitation camp for youngsters was held at Baylor immediately after school ended, and that Mr. Longley was a counselor there along with Mr. Forbes and Mr. Norwood. Mr. Longley remembered hearing the two talk about going to Georgia together after it ended.
 
Before departing, however, they stopped by Felder’s home at 302 E. Sunset Road on Lookout Mountain. That was where the accident occurred on June 9, 1958.
 
As Walter Forbes recounted the story recently over the phone with virtually no prompting, Felder had kept a loaded H&R .22-caliber, seven-shot revolver on his headboard. This was in part because he was at home alone with his mother, and some break-ins had recently occurred on Lookout Mountain, Mr. Forbes said.
 
Coming from a family of hunters, he was used to handling firearms safely, but Mr. Norwood was not as knowledgeable, Mr. Forbes said. Mr. Norwood’s father simply did not let him handle guns, Mr. Forbes added.
 
The two’s Baylor classmates recalled when interviewed that Baylor had some firearms training as part of its military program, but it was very minimal.
 
Mr. Forbes said that Felder later told his brother that he left the room to go to the attic to get his suitcase for the trip, and when he came back, Mr. Norwood playfully had the gun and, to Mr. Norwood’s surprise, it went off in the direction of Felder.           
 
The three classmates recall hearing that Mr. Norwood had been looking in a mirror and pulling out the gun in a quick draw type fashion while Felder was out, and that he assumed the gun had no bullets in it.
 
Felder suffered an injury to his mid-section from the shooting that was ruled an accident and was rushed to Erlanger Hospital. Dorothy McCall, a friend of their mother, was a registered nurse and happened to be at the family’s pool that day and had initially rushed to his bedroom to tend to Felder, Mr. Forbes said.
 
With family friend Dr. Cecil Newell performing surgery with special assistance from Dr. Gilbert Roberts, who was called in to address damage to his pancreas, Felder was stabilized.
 
Walter Forbes at the time was serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in faraway Okinawa as part of the last American forces to occupy Japan, and he said that he had the strangest sensation about that time that something was not right with his brother.
 
“Felder and I were close in odd ways,” Mr. Forbes recalled. “I was walking up the ladder in a troop ship in the Pacific. I knew something was wrong.”
 
Mr. Forbes was later able to return home and visited some with Felder while he recuperated in the guest quarters in the garage of the home after being dismissed from Erlanger on July 9. Mr. Forbes remembers they had some long talks into the night.
 
Unfortunately for Felder and the family, his condition worsened while he remained bedridden. He had to be readmitted to Erlanger on July 16. He died on July 19, 1958.
 
The bullet had entered his right lung with minimal damage there, but went toward his liver and pancreas. Walter Forbes said the wall of the aorta had been weakened, and pancreatic acid ate through it, causing him to hemorrhage.
 
He was initially buried in Forest Hills Cemetery following a service at Church of the Good Shepherd on Lookout Mountain with the Rev. Gordon Mann, assistant rector, officiating. However, he was later re-interred in Marshallville, Ga., near where his mother, Lucy Booten Frederick Forbes, had been raised and the family still had land.
 
His father, Walter Forbes Sr., was a standout multi-sport athlete at the University of Georgia in the 1920s before later coming to Chattanooga to start the Signal Thread textile and yarn manufacturing company and related firms.
 
Walter Forbes Jr., also an accomplished musician who has performed at the Grand Ole Opry, also worked for the company for years. He thinks Felder would have made a great company head with his natural leadership and convivial manner.
 
Besides among his family and friends, Felder Forbes’ memory remains connected to Baylor these days through the lounge, which the Forbes family donated money for in 1959 through a foundation created in Felder’s memory. Barks Hall was completed in 1961 and the lounge was originally decorated with mid-century paneling throughout before a recent updating.
 
For years it was used for special small group meetings or events like club gatherings, but it has become even more a part of the school with its remodeling in recent years.
 
“Everyone loves it,” said Rose Dallimore. “It’s kind of the choice spot between free periods.”
 
Baylor schoolmates Carmen Ross and Jackson Bush, who were in there as the Dallimores visited it, also agreed that it was a nice and quiet place to study, although Miss Ross said she was unaware who Felder Forbes was.
 
According to Walter Forbes, the portrait of Felder hanging in the lounge was painted by Bill Draper, a well-known World War II combat artist. He also did portraits of such noted people as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
 
Baylor classmates Mr. Cope, Mr. Longley and Dr. Sawrie jokingly said they have deduced that the artist must not have been familiar with the stripes given Baylor cadets in the military curriculum, as it has more on Felder than even the top cadet at any time would have received. It is more like at West Point, they said.
 
Also at Baylor is a stained glass window in the original chapel dedicated in Felder Forbes’ memory as a gift by the 1959 senior class. Miss Dallimore, whose father, Stevie Ray Dallimore, is the director of drama at McCallie, is quite familiar with it, too, and enjoys looking at it as well.            
 
While sad about his short life, she also takes pride in the people he was still able to influence positively.
 
“He was a very kind and impactful member in his community,” said Miss Dallimore. “His memory is very positive in a lot of ways.”
 
Miss Dallimore is now at the same point in her Baylor career that her great-uncle was when he died. She is getting ready to head into her senior year and, like Felder Forbes, has been active in leadership programs. She is one of the Joe Key Award recipients for selfless character and will take an outdoors trip this summer to Acadia National Park in Maine, and she will also take another trip to Washington, D.C., on an Abshire Fellowship.
 
She is also active in the school community service leadership board and participates in debate and model UN. She is interested in politics and economics and would love to work in a diplomatic capacity one day, she said.
 
After the interview, she found out she had received a prestigious 2017 Achievement Award in Writing by the National Council of Teachers in English. She was recognized for an essay titled “Power of Responsibility” and a commentary on the William Faulkner novel, “The Sound and the Fury.”
 
Her gifts sound not unlike some of those described of Felder Forbes.
 
“I’d like to think that he would be very proud of Rose,” her mother, Kate Forbes Dallimore, said of her uncle.
 
Shortly before he died, Felder Forbes was apparently trying to demonstrate his own power of responsibility, even while sick. According to the yearbook memorial tribute from 1959, he had tried to call a meeting with several fellow rising seniors from his hospital.
 
“Its purpose was to map plans for the school year of 1958-59, with special emphasis on school spirit,” the yearbook stated. “Felder’s parents were forced to postpone the meeting because of doctor’s orders, however, though the boy himself refused to give in.”
 
The tribute said he died before a meeting could be held.
 
However, Felder Forbes’ life – and death – did inspire in a positive manner the Baylor students and others that school year and beyond.  And it particularly had an impact on Charlie Norwood.
 
As will be detailed in the second and concluding story in the series, he turned the adversity into an opportunity to become even more of a leader and help others all the way to the U.S. Congress.
 
Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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