Being Robert W. Chamber’s son wasn’t much fun

Morning Herald photo shows Robert Jr., as a handsome, seemingly-confident candidate, published during one of his unsuccessful Assembly election campaigns. (Photo courtesy of Peter Betz)

One would think being a wealthy author’s son would be nice, but for Robert Edward Stuart Chambers, life with or beyond father became pretty much a series of hard knocks. More approachable to Broadalbin citizens than his father who generally secluded himself, Robert Jr. at least tried to participate in community affairs.

Born Oct. 3, 1899 at Broadalbin, the only son of famous author Robert and Elise Moore Chambers, Robert Jr. may have started life with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, but life taught him silver spoons were all too easy to choke on.

For example, in November 1920, the Times announced his engagement to New York society girl Grace Talbot, but the following June, Grace broke it off.

After completing two year’s studies at Oxford in 1924, Robert married reputed English beauty Cara Goodenough-Gain in London, bringing her home to Broadalbin, but apparently Cara wasn’t “good enough.”

Parental disapproval was swift, Clara’s removal even swifter. The Sept. 24, 1924 Albany Times Union observed, “After inviting the couple to America, they took an intense dislike to her, shut her husband off from funds, and hurried her out of the country.”

Cara herself informed reporters, “The Chambers were insistent their son marry a wealthy society girl in New York after divorcing me.”

Which society girl the Chambers preferred for Robert Jr. isn’t clear, nor is the outcome of Cara’s half-million-dollar lawsuit against his parents for alienation of affection. Robert Jr. apparently learned no lesson from the experience: he quickly married again, this time to a lady named Olive Irene, last name unknown. Whether the senior Chambers also wrecked this union isn’t clear, but his marital train again derailed. The May 17, 1926 Gloversville Morning Herald reported he’d received a divorce “on the grounds of desertion, she leaving him a month after marriage in 1925.”

On June 29, 1932, selecting Washington, D.C. as a more bountiful hunting grounds, Robert Jr. married Barendina Gardiner, apparently this time with parental approval: Barendina’s pedigree, detailed in the announcement, must have finally been good enough.

At least this union lasted awhile. 1930s social columns frequently noted the couple’s activities, particularly in Saratoga and Washington. Their union even bore a child, a boy who unfortunately died in infancy Nov. 28, 1938, and is buried in the Chambers Broadalbin Cemetery lot. Again, good fortune eluded Robert.

During the mid 30s, Robert made an honest attempt at public service in Broadalbin, organizing local merchants into a Chamber of Commerce. The July 21, 1936 Morning Herald reported, “A meeting was held at the home of Robert E.S. Chambers to make arrangements for a local Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Chambers presided and a Committee of Organization was chosen.”

A week later, with chamber organization approved, Robert was elected president. A World War I veteran, he was also vice president of the Fulton County Reserve Officers Association and an active member of Broadalbin’s Robert Lee Walsh Post.

He ran unsuccessfully for the New York state Assembly twice. After his second defeat in 1937, he quipped, “I’ll stick to fiction, it pays better.”

What ‘fiction’ Robert was referring to was probably his attempt that year to follow his father’s literary footsteps, when Dutton & Co. published his collection of short stories titled, “John Tom Alligator.”

The Times reviewer declared Chamber’s writing style showed, “bright promise of what the future may bring” and also observed, “The writer is a man of interests, fond of outdoor life, an ardent fisherman and student of nature who has hunted big game in Canada and Africa. He holds a reserve commission in the First N.Y. Cavalry.”

No doubt his father fostered his hunting and fishing interests, which included environmental protectionism.

His environmental concerns, however, only made enemies in Broadalbin. Shortly after organizing the chamber, local fishermen showed him a mass of dead fish awash on the Kennyetto’s banks.

As chamber president, Robert filed an official complaint with the state conservation and health departments, blaming polluting chemical discharges from the nearby Broadalbin Knitting Mill.

The wimpy 1930s state agencies investigated and agreed, but merely sent the company “a letter suggesting certain sanitary improvements.”

Meanwhile, Chambers complaint had angered local businessmen who cared more about the mill’s prosperity than some dead fish. Robert’s immediate resignation as chamber president was demanded and “the Chapter secretary was authorized to send a letter of apology to the Broadalbin Knitting Company and the state agencies.”

Exit Robert as a community leader.

Nothing seemed to go right for him. He and Barendina separated in September 1939, divorcing in 1944 shortly after he received an honorable army disability discharge. This came without any disability pay however. He appealed, getting nowhere as usual.

In 1954, the June 2 Times Union commented, “He married a southern belle who left him, taking truckloads of fine furniture with her, which she sold at the Parke-Bernet Gallery about the time of his discharge. He returned to an almost empty house. He appeared at Broadalbin off and on the next few years, then abandoned the place.” The main house was sold at auction in March, 1948, the remainder on Aug. 6, 1952.

Robert Edward Stuart Chambers died suddenly in Washington Jan. 1, 1955.

At his gravesite, Robert Lee Walsh Post members fired a military salute, probably the greatest sign of respect Robert ever received, and he had to die to get it.

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