Odell Franklin Dobson ’49

Odell Franklin Dobson ’49, former vice president of Mutual Savings Life Insurance Company in Decatur, Ala., died peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 21, 2010. He was 87 years old. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Barbara Ann Killheffer Dobson, 3702 Choctaw Dr. SE, Decatur, AL 35603; his three children, Michael, Patrick, and Lise Dobson Grisham; a sister, Frances Munday; and grandchildren, Van Patrick Martin, Samuel Dobson, Sarah Dobson, James Dobson, and Gary Grisham III. Dobson was born in 1923 in Scholfield, Va. His father, Rob Dobson, saw his business wiped out in the Great Depression, and Dobson dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to work in the nearby Dan River Mills. While the clouds of war gathered around the world, Dobson took flying lessons in hopes of joining the new Army Air Corps. He washed out of flight training, but managed to get himself reassigned as a gunner, in spite of the fact that he was too tall for the job. As a member of the B-24 crew “Rudd’s Ruffians,” he flew 13 combat raids over Germany. On the 13th raid in September 1944, his aircraft was shot down over Koblenz. He was wounded and became a prisoner of war. He was part of the infamous “Shoe Leather Express” forced march of POWs, spending 87 days on the road before being liberated. After the war, Dobson finished his high school education and attended Davidson, where he was a member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. His college roommate, Kurt Biedenkopf ’50, subsequently became head of the German Christian Democrat Party and president of the state of Saxony. Dobson had outstanding grades in all subjects except math, and ended up three credits short of his degree as a result of his inability to pass calculus. He married Charlotte resident Barbara Ann Killheffer in 1950, got his license as a life insurance salesman, and after a brief period with Security Life and Trust (now Integon), joined Decatur-based Mutual Savings in 1956. He moved with his family to Germany in order to sell insurance to the large military community, returning to the U.S. in 1961 following the erection of the Berlin Wall. He moved from sales into a management role in the claims department, advancing to a vice presidency. On a business trip to Spain in the 1980s, he met British author Bruce Lewis, who adapted Dobson’s WWII stories as part of his book Four Men Went to War. He also appeared as a fictional character, “Digger” O’Dell, in the novel Fox on the Rhine, co-authored by his son, Michael. Dobson had many interests. In 1958, he ventured into the middle of the Lebanese Civil War to sell insurance, coming under fire on his way into Beirut. He was a passionate sailor who built his own sloop, once a familiar sight on the Tennessee River. He was also deeply interested in genealogy, amassing a database of over 55,000 connections. His great-great-great-great uncle, John Tyler, was the 10th president of the U.S. Other notable ancestors include the Harrisons of Virginia (two U.S. presidents and a signer of the Declaration of Independence) and the Armisteads of Virginia (the commander of Ft. McHenry during the incident leading to the writing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and the Confederate general who died at Gettysburg). Dobson was an active member of St. Charles Anglican Catholic Church in Huntsville. He was also involved in numerous veterans groups, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the 2nd Air Division Association, and the 392nd Bomb Group Association.