Published July 18. 2014 1:11PM Updated July 19. 2014 5:28PM
Robert Hamilton, 57, Electric Boat spokesman and former Day reporter who was the first U.S. reporter embedded on a combat submarine during a wartime patrol since World War II, died Friday morning.
“My mom found him in his chair after he worked out for a little bit,” said his daughter, Laura Hamilton.
Hamilton was the EB spokesman for more than eight years and before that a reporter at The Day for 18 years, much of that time covering the military beat. He was the father of three, husband to Kathryn Hamilton and active in civic affairs in his hometown of Franklin.
“Healthwise, he has had a rough year, nothing really specific, just generally not feeling well, and he was the type of guy that didn’t want to make a big deal out of anything,” Laura Hamilton said. “He always focused on other people and their needs. He was very compassionate — compassionate but strong.”
Colleagues and friends on all sides — The Day, EB and the military — said Hamilton focused on the facts, was straightforward and sometimes knew the subject matter better than his subjects did.
Office of Military Affairs Executive Director Bob Ross, who was the public affairs officer for the Sixth Fleet while Hamilton worked for The Day, said he trusted Hamilton more than any journalist he had ever dealt with. As the U.S. military prepared to invade Iraq in March 2003, Ross said he didn’t want the submarine force left out of the story as it usually was.
“I trusted Bob enough and said we need to embark this reporter in submarines on the Red Sea,” Ross said.
Hamilton and Day photographer Tim Cook were embedded on the USS Providence (SSN 719), a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, for nearly a month. The two boarded before the Iraq War began on March 20, 2003, Cook said. The USS Providence joined in the war about 24 hours after it started and the two journalists witnessed the firing of Tomahawk cruise missiles.
“When Bob was embedded on a sub during wartime, we joked in the newsroom that he was probably driving it,” Managing Editor Tim Cotter said Friday.
Being invited on a submarine during wartime patrol shows how well-respected Hamilton was, said former EB President John Welch, who is now the president of U.S. Enrichment Corp. in Maryland.
“He was extremely professional, but he obviously was a very decent human being who cared about the people he dealt with, and he was obviously a very devoted husband and father to his children,” Welch said. “It is a loss to the community, to greater southeastern Connecticut, to EB, to defense circles and, I think, the whole naval community.”
Hamilton was a reporter who dug up the facts, got them validated and spent a lot of time truly trying to understand the submarine force and its mission, Welch said.
Former Day Executive Editor Lance C. Johnson said Hamilton was known for breaking international stories yet keeping a good relationship with his sources.
“He always maintained a good relationship with the people he had to deal with, regardless of whether he broke a story they liked or not, because they knew he was doing his job and went about it in a way that was straightforward,” Johnson said.
His name became synonymous with the coverage of the military in the region, said Day Publisher Gary Farrugia.
“He was a very exhaustive reporter but extremely fair,” Farrugia said. “He earned not only the respect of his editors but the respect of the military that he covered.”
Neil Ruenzel, retired spokesman for EB who worked with Hamilton when he was at The Day, said Hamilton did an incredible job of following a story from start to finish.
Hamilton covered the design stage of the Virginia-class submarines through construction and delivery, Ruenzel said.
Hamilton often worked “too hard” and had to be told to “have a life outside of work,” Johnson said.
When Hamilton got the offer to work at EB, The Day tried to keep him, but ultimately, it was a “lifestyle decision,” Johnson said.
As he became a part of Electric Boat, he saw what the men and woman building the ships go through, said former EB President Michael Toner, who is retired and lives in Vero Beach, Fla.
“It gave him a different point of view on the whole endeavor,” Toner said.
Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for Submarine Group 2 at the Naval Submarine Base, said he spoke with Hamilton every Friday because they shared similar missions.
“Everything he did in our interactions, and everything he thought about, was in the interest of supporting the Navy, in the interest of supporting the sailor that would man the submarines that EB builds,” Hawkins said. “That is just something I never took for granted. I always appreciated it, and he will definitely be missed.”
Hamilton also went out of his way to support his church, community and family.
“Bob was the guy who came to the church and jumped right in and started serving,” said Pastor Sonny Stimson of Christian Fellowship Church in Scotland. “He worked in the newcomers’ ministry at church. He was just one of those guys who was an asset. He didn’t just come to the church. Some come and sit, and that is what they need, but he was one of those guys who actually served.”
Longtime friend Wallace “Wally” Gagnon said Hamilton wrote him a recommendation letter when he wanted to go back to earn his master’s degree in education after working for the state for 35 years.
“It brought tears to my eyes. It was a beautiful summary for why I should be considered,” Gagnon said.
Hamilton and his wife also helped Gagnon when his wife died nearly seven years ago.
“They were at the forefront, being there for us,” he said. “Bringing up our kids as their own kids.”
Now Kathryn needs the same support, Gagnon said.
Laura, Hamilton’s daughter, said Friday that his death was unexpected.
“From what we can gather, it was pretty peaceful, no trauma,” she said. “I really can only say that he lived 100 percent of his life for his family.”
He taught his kids the importance of working hard and having an education, she said.
“He, my parents, built this family from the ground up,” Laura Hamilton said. “We have extended family, but it was always just the five of us. We were very, very close.”
Besides his wife and daughter, Hamilton leaves two sons, Nicholas and Jonathan Hamilton.
Arrangements are incomplete, Laura Hamilton said.