George Henry Robertson (Barney) Ross already had one more middle name than most people, and one more nickname than many. So what does he want? Why, another name, of course -- one he says is much more appropriate than his other five.
"They ought to call me Impulse," Ross says. "Everything good or bad I've ever done, it's been on impulse."
Barney Ross' impulses have usually turned out momentously -- for much, much better or very much worse.
Evidence? One night in August, 1943, Ross, a young Navy ensign assigned to the Solomon Islands, was feeling bored.
Impulse! He asked his pal, Lt. John F. Kennedy, if he could hitch a ride on Kennedy's PT-109. Six hours later, the celebrated boat and the celebrated President-to-be were rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer.
Kennedy and Ross spent a week on an island, eating coconuts and wondering if they would ever eat anything else. Finally, they and nine crewmen were rescued, but not before Impulse had forged an enduring Kennedy-Ross friendship.
The friendship was the reason Impulse struck again in 1959. Then-Senator Kennedy called up then-insutance salesman Barney Ross in Ross' home town of Barrington, Ill. Would Ross help out an old buddy and head up the Barrington Democrats for Kennedy in 1960?
Impulse! "I said, 'Of course,'" says Ross.
One victory and two years later, the same phone rang. Would Ross like to come to Washington to take a juvenile delinquency fighter's job with the JFK administration?
Flash went the Big I Sign: "I knew I had to," Ross says.
He knew the same thing on July 4, 1965. Ross, his wife and their two daughters had driven to downtown Bethesda to buy a holiday ice cream cone. Across the street, Ross spotted a motorcycle dealer who was, incredibly, open.
Did Impulse seize Barney Ross? Are pretzels salty? In 20 minutes, Ross was heading home astride a new Honda.
Four months later, aboard the same bike, Ross was on his way to his downtown Washington job at the United Planning Organization along Vermont Avenue NW. "I still don't know what happened," he says. "But I know one thing: I never saw the red light." Nor did the driver of the car see Ross until he had smashed into him.
Ross was thrown across the street. He crashed head first into a large boulder. He broke more than a dozen bones. He sustained massive internal injuries, and probably would have died if he had not been wearing a helmet.
As it was, Ross spent the next two years in and out of hospitals. He underwent two bone graft operations. He spent months sleeping in the family dining room so he could avoid climbing stairs.
Ross never fully recovered. Today, at 60, he cannot walk without a cane and a leg brace. His right leg, still irreparably broken in several places, is five inches shorter than it used to be. Although Ross is mobile, he is not very agile, and he describes himself matter-of-factly as "a cripple."
But "cripple" does not sum up Barney Ross any more than "blind man" sums up Ray Charles. Despite his limitations, Ross' energy has redoubled since his accident -- and his will to get involoved in all things human seems stronger than ever.
For example, this month he is serving as chairman of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA's annual Partners with Youth fund drive. His daughter urged him to take the job -- and she only had to ask once.
Although Ross works Monday through Friday as a manpower specialist for UPO, his clients often call him at home at 8 a.m. on Saturdays -- "and he loves it," says his wife, Pat.
Ross walks to and from the bus stop without help every weekday. He claims he is still as strong as he was in high school, when he earned his nickname because his boxing talents were likened to those of the real Barney Ross, a renowed heavyweight.
And who is the groundskipper at the Bethesda town house condominium development where the Rosses live? Hint: He's got two middle names
"I guess I could have gone inward after the accident," said Ross one recent evening, during a talk over tea around his kitchen table. "But everybody was so nice to me while I was sick. I feel right 'giving back' to people. I get my honks out of it."
Ross has never had any trouble finding his honks, despite an early career that played to mixed reviews.
He grew up in Barrington, the son of an accountant who thrived during the Depression "because he kept track of everyone else's failures," according to Ross.
From there, it was on to Princeton, where Ross graduated dead last in the class of 1941. His most vivid memory of Old Nassau is a dean who called him in one day. "He said, 'Young man, you're wasting your father's money,'" Ross chucklingly recalls.
He joined the Navy in 1942, and embarked on an insurance career back in Barrington after the war was over. "I did okay, but emotionally, I was floundering," Ross says. "Selling insurance is like being a social worker in a way. You really help a guy. But there was always so much more...."
In 1961, "more" found Ross in the form of the Kennedy Administration offer. He spent two years as executive director of the President's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency. "My only credential," Ross says, "was that I had been an assistant Scout master of Troop 10 in Barrington."
After Kennedy's assassination, Ross helped his widow answer the thousands of condolence letters that poured in. In 1964, he took the job at UPO that he still holds.
"The way it's worked has been very, very funny," says Barney Ross. "I was just one of the guys. The President and I weren't best friends or anything like that. But I wouldn't have come to Washington if it weren't for him."
Ross pauses. Is he about to blame the Kennedys for his accident? Far from it.
He tells a story about Jacqueline Kennedy, about how she sent him a flask of chicken soup from a New York delicatessen while he was in the hospital. "They were so incredibly nice -- the whole family," Ross says. "Still are."
Barney Ross is still riding Impulse. "I'm still kind of a sap for people," he says. "I still like 'em."
He reaches for his wife's hand. "Isn't that right, Mother?" he asks. She just smiles and squeezes. Some Impulses can play silently.