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Robert Ruark (1915-1965) achieved popular success matched by few Tar Heel writers. Richard Walser listed The Old Man and the Boy (1957) as one of five North Carolina titles likely to still be read in one hundred years. Ruark’s birthplace at 173 Orange Street in Wilmington no longer stands. By 1918 his family had moved to 117 Nun Street (that address, the Chadbourn House, is today marked with a small plaque) and by the time young Robert was in high school they resided at 2911 Market Street (now the site of a motel). As a boy Ruark Ruark spent much of his time at his grandfather’s house (which remains) on Lord Street in Southport. His reminiscences about those years formed the basis for the 1957 bestseller.
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Ruark graduated from the University of North Carolina at age nineteen and, after short stints with the Works Progress Administration and the Merchant Marines, became a sportswriter with the Washington Daily News. During World War II he served three years in the Navy and from 1946 to 1965 was a columnist for Scripps-Howard newspapers. Calling himself a “pretty ordinary hack,” Ruark wrote over 4,000 columns over the years. The New York Times commented on his “stinging wit” and, upon his death, quoted from columns on psychiatrists, scheming women, and other pet hates. He was a frequent contributor to popular men’s magazines such as True and Argosy.
Ernest Hemingway was Ruark’s model and the North Carolinian relentlessly imitated his hero’s writing style and way of life. Ruark’s bestsellers Something of Value (1955) and Uhuru (1962), both set in Africa, were criticized for their stark depictions of violence and torture. Yet, as the success of The Old Man and the Boy demonstrated, his hard-boiled style concealed a tender sensibility. Many of his fourteen books were semi-autobiographical. Poor No More (1959) was the rags-to-riches story about a young North Carolina man. The Honey Badger (1965) depicted a writer torn between work and women. In the mid-1950s Ruark moved to Spain. He died of a liver ailment and is buried at Palermo north of Barcelona.
Hugh A. Foster, Someone of Value: A Biography of Robert Ruark (1992)
Richard Walser and E. T. Malone Jr., Literary North Carolina (rev. ed., 1986)
Contemporary Authors, Permanent Series, Vol. II, 453-454
Peggy Payne, “The Famous Bobby,” Wildlife in North Carolina (October 1979), 9-12
(Raleigh) News and Observer, July 1, 1965
New York Times, July 1, 1965
Wilmington city directories, 1915, 1918, 1919, and 1930