OCEAN CITY – Ocean City lost a treasured icon this week when Captain Robert S. Craig, who shepherded the Beach Patrol through decades of change and inspired his young charges for half a century passed away at the age of 90.
Captain Craig, as he was known for decades not only by the thousands of lifeguards who worked with him and for him but also by the countless millions of local residents and visitors to the resort area, passed away last Saturday at the Coastal Hospice in Salisbury at the age of 90. A former schoolteacher and coach, Captain Craig served on the Ocean City Beach Patrol for 52 years including 40 as captain. He began with the patrol in the mid-1930s and became captain in 1946, a position he held until he retired in 1986.
Over the years, Captain Craig instilled a sense of accountability and decency in his young charges and helped shepherd not only the patrol, but the growing resort in general, through several decades of tumultuous change. The Ocean City Craig met when he first moved here in the 1930s looked nothing like the bustling resort town at the time of his retirement over 50 years later, but through all the change, Craig and his beloved beach patrol remained a model of consistency.
“Losing Bob Craig is a tough loss,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “When you think of the Ocean City Beach Patrol, you think of Bob Craig. It is the organization it has become today because of him. He took it from a small outfit decades ago to one of the best in the country. His excellence has rubbed off on all of those who have followed him and those young guys looked up to him like a father figure.”
Delegate James Mathias, a former Ocean City mayor, fondly recalled the late beach patrol patriarch this week, calling him a cornerstone of the success of the resort over the years.
“Throughout the history of Ocean City, there have always been and always will be cornerstone figures who gave their lives for the prosperity and safety of Ocean City and Captain Craig stands among the tallest of those individuals,” he said. “He inspired those who worked with him and those who came after him. I only pray God continues to bless Ocean City with individuals like Captain Craig.”
Current OCBP Captain Butch Arbin, who has served on the beach patrol for 36 years, said Captain Craig’s status in the resort is much larger than his role on the beach patrol.
“He really shepherded the beach patrol, and the town for the most part, through several eras,” he said. “Captain Craig is absolutely the father of the Ocean City Beach Patrol. The beach patrol has probably rescued and saved over 100,000 people over the years and returned tens of thousands of lost kids, and directly or indirectly, Captain Craig had a hand in just about every one of them.”
Arbin said his passing last weekend is a reason to celebrate his life and not dwell on his death. The current captain said his mission is to continue the late captain’s legacy.
“Captain Craig died, but it’s okay,” he said. “He was 90 years old. It’s okay to miss somebody, but it’s not a time to be sad. He impacted so many lives that his legacy will always be a living legacy. I really feel it’s part of my job as captain to maintain that legacy, just as it will be for anybody that comes after me.”
For years, Captain Craig was as much a cultural icon in Ocean City as the captain of its beach patrol. He was extremely well known for several decades to the countless residents and visitors to the beach.
“Of all the people in Ocean City history, Captain Craig was one of most well-known,” said Arbin. “Everybody knew who the captain was, but that’s not the case anymore. He used to ride his bicycle up and down the Boardwalk watching over the beach and his guards and he became a local hero.”
For the endless number of young men and women who served under the late captain, he was as much a father figure as a boss.
Current OCBP Lieutenant Ward Kovacs this week fondly recalled one of his first encounters with the beach patrol icon.
“It my first year on the beach patrol and I was down here a few weeks before I passed the tests so I hadn’t been paid,” he said. “Well, I passed the tests and it was time to get paid, but there was some wrong information on my paycheck it was delayed longer. Captain Craig didn’t even really know me, but he gives me money out of his wallet and tells me to pay it back whenever I can or let him know if I need more. That was my first exposure to the captain.”
Meehan this week fondly recalled one of the last times he saw Captain Craig, during the annual one-mile swim in his honor last summer.
“I had the good fortune this past summer to go up to the beach for the mile swim in his honor and he was there with his wife,” he said. “His health had deteriorated, but his mind was as still sharp as a tack. The neat thing was, all of the young guys and even some of the older guys, even though they might not have known him, treated him with the reverence he deserved. They understood what he meant to the beach patrol.”