Page was the only one who remembered the day in September 2003 when, just home from the hospital after the heart attack, Robert hugged her in the kitchen and told her everything was going to be all right. Or the moment a day later when he collapsed and stopped breathing.
Wrapping up the contents of their home on the eve of moving day — and the beginning of a new chapter in their lives — Page couldn’t help but reach back to those best and worst of times, and one other memorable day:
On a Saturday morning in the spring of 2010, Page had arranged for Robert to come home from Sunrise for breakfast. She had asked Robert’s brother Will to drive down from Annandale to be with them and sent the girls out for the morning with Allan Ivie, a friend from childhood who had come back into her life. She had consulted with Robert’s doctors and her minister. She cooked up some eggs. She was nervous as she sat down at the big oak table next to her husband of 16 years.
Then she had a conversation with Robert she had never imagined she could have.
* * *
During the eight weeks Robert Hamilton Melton spent at a rehabilitation hospital in Hanover, Va., after his brain injury, he would often pick up a notepad and pen, wander into another patient’s room and start talking. Before he remembered anything about his personal life, he remembered he had been a reporter.
Writing under the byline R.H. Melton, Robert, 54, had built his career at The Washington Post, where he worked since 1982 as an editor and a reporter, primarily covering politics in Maryland, Virginia and the District. (He was a colleague of and became a close friend of my husband’s.) He was considered the institutional memory, a thoughtful editor and an elegant writer who was often the go-to guy on breaking stories.
In Richmond, where he worked during the final years of his career, he broke stories that rattled the political landscape: One led to the resignation of the speaker of the House of Delegates in 2002, and another resulted in the federal conviction of a former executive director of the Virginia GOP. The Post nominated him for a Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting that year; in 2009, he was inducted into the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association Hall of Fame.
At 6-foot-5, Robert was an imposing presence, both supremely self-contained and reserved. He listened more than he talked, and he didn’t mind that he intimidated people.
“He could be very haughty and very snide,” Bob Lewis, a reporter for the Associated Press in Richmond, says affectionately. “He did that to new people, just to see if they could roll with it. If you let it get under your skin, you failed the Robert test.”