Robert McPherson Gardiner
by Terry Pryor
Lt. Robert McPherson Gardiner in uniform. Courtesy Photo
Although born in Denver, Colorado, Robert McPherson Gardiner spent his childhood and youth at the Auburn home in Catoctin Furnace. It was from here that he joined the Army in 1943.
This is, in part, his story. I did not know him, but I am married to his nephew, Christopher Orth Gardiner, who has regaled me with wonderful stories of this man and his lifetime accomplishments.
308th Field Artillery Battalion
APO 78, U. S. Army
8 August 1945
Subject: Recommendation for Award
To: Commanding General, 78th Infantry Division, APO 78, U. S. Army.
1. Under the provisions of AR600-45, as amended, it is recommended that ROBERT. M. GARDINER, First Lieutenant, 0528776, Field Artillery, Battery “C”, 308th Field Artillery Battalion, present for duty, be awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action in connection with military operations against the enemy on 17 January 1945.
2. Detailed Description of Incident: Lt GARDINER, a Field Artillery Forward Observer, was with an Infantry company assigned the mission of holding a piece of high ground and a pill box in the vicinity of Rafflesbrand, Germany. On 17 January 1945, the Germans attacked in force to retake this ground and to reoccupy the pill box. The Infantry Lt GARDINER was supporting was driven from the dug in positions in front of the pill box, leaving it exposed to the enemy. Realizing the importance of the position, Lt GARDINER held his ground and continued firing on the enemy in spite of the fact that his position was overrun. The Germans subjected the pill box to heavy artillery and mortar fire, wounding Lt GARDINER and killing his radio operator. Lt GARDINER then himself operated the radio and continued to observe the enemy. The results of his accurate calls for artillery fire were devastating and were greatly responsible for the disorganization of the planned attack by the Germans. He continued to call for and adjust fires for a period of six hours until the ground was again secured by our own Infantry. This artillery played an important part in repulsing the enemy and driving them from the hill. Although wounded, this Officer remained at his observation post for 48 hours, continuing to bring artillery fore down on the enemy at every suspicious move. Lt GARDINER distinguished himself throughout combat as being one of the most dependable, aggressive, and courageous forward observers in the 308th Field Artillery Battalion. His aggressiveness, personal courage and heroic action are in accordance with the highest military traditions.
* Unfortunately, this letter is missing the last part of the page, but he was awarded that Silver Star that he so deserved.
The following is from the November 16, 2018, Wall Street Journal, by James R. Hagerty.
Robert Gardiner, Wall Street Giant, Helped Sears With ‘Socks and Stocks’ Strategy
Army veteran was part of building Dean Witter into a powerhouse and launching Discover credit card.
Stay put or flee? Atop a hill in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest in January 1945, Robert Gardiner, a 22-year-old Army officer, had to make a quick decision.
As his unit faced swarming German troops, he was in a concrete pillbox and responsible for directing artillery fire. He stayed, even after mortar fire briefly knocked him out and killed his radio operator. With blood trickling down his back, Mr. Gardiner took over the radio duties to provide cover for his troops.
The 6-foot-7 Army officer, nicknamed “Stretch,” might have made an easy target, but he survived and returned home to launch a career on Wall Street, where nothing ever seemed to fluster him. He was deeply involved in two mergers that helped transform the securities industry from a gaggle of small partnerships into a business dominated by global companies.
Mr. Gardiner, who died Nov. 3 at the age of 95, headed Reynolds Securities when it merged into Dean Witter in 1978, creating one of the largest Wall Street firms. In 1981, he was president of Dean Witter Reynolds when Sears, Roebuck & Co. paid about $610 million for the firm as part of its strategy of offering financial services—including insurance, real-estate brokerage and investment funds—alongside refrigerators and underpants.
Robert MacPherson Gardiner was born Nov. 17, 1922, in Denver. His family had a candy business in New York but had moved to Colorado with the hope that cleaner air would help his father, Clement Gardiner, recover from tuberculosis. The elder Mr. Gardiner died when Robert was 9, and the family relocated to a dairy farm near Frederick, Md. (Auburn) He attended the Trinity-Pawling boarding school in Pawling, N.Y., where he was on the basketball team.
At Princeton University, he majored in history and participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He wore an Army uniform and marched to classes and meals.
“I remember practicing slouching and bending my knees to appear shorter when measured so that I would qualify for the Army’s height limit,” he wrote later. After graduating from Princeton in 1943, he was inducted into the Army. In October 1944, he was shipped to Europe. As an artillery forward observer, he wrote, “I served as the eyes of the gunners.” He was awarded Silver Star and Purple Heart medals for remaining in the exposed pillbox in the Hürtgen Forest. He also won a Bronze Star and a Belgian Croix de Guerre.
After the war, he became a research analyst at the Wall Street firm A.M. Kidder & Co. Five years later, he jumped to a bigger firm, Reynolds & Co. He soon found he was unhappy there and wrote a letter of resignation. The firm’s founder asked why he was leaving. “I told him it was a lousy firm, and I told him why it was a lousy firm,” Mr. Gardiner recalled in a 2005 oral history. “Instead of throwing me out on my ear, he said, ‘Why don’t you become my assistant?’ Maybe we can do something about it.’”
By 1958, Mr. Gardiner was managing partner of Reynolds as it opened offices across the U.S. and in Canada. Reynolds eventually merged with Dean Witter, which was strong on the West Coast, creating a national firm to rival Merrill Lynch.
The 1981 takeover offer from Sears was too generous to refuse, he said later. Sears soon promoted him to CEO of Dean Witter. Financial-services kiosks popped up in hundreds of stores. By the time Mr. Gardiner retired in 1986, however, the kiosks still weren’t producing much business for Dean Witter. The retailer abandoned its “socks and stocks” strategy in the early 1990s. Dean Witter ended up as part of Morgan Stanley.
Though investment kiosks in Sears stores didn’t work out, the idea of combining a securities firm, an insurer and a real-estate broker was sound, Mr. Gardiner said in the oral history. The best solution, he suggested, would have been to keep them together and spin off the Sears stores. One lasting business that emerged from the combination was the Discover credit card, which he helped launch.
In his later years, he served as an adviser to Morgan Stanley and had an office in the World Trade Center. He tended to show up early at the office and start his day by tipping his fedora to the receptionist. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was stuck in traffic near the Holland Tunnel, saving him from the terrorist attack.
Mr. Gardiner was a longtime trustee of the Boys’ Club of New York and endowed a school at a Boys’ Club summer camp. He also supported the Guggenheim Museum and the Trinity-Pawling School, among other causes.
Mr. Gardiner is survived by Elizabeth Walker Gardiner, whom he married in 1975. An earlier marriage ended in divorce. He is also survived by three of his four children and two grandchildren.
Friends recalled his relentless optimism. When the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 23% in one day in October 1987, he assured colleagues it would quickly rebound. In his early 80s, he was still hoping to improve his golf score. After he had a stroke on his 89th birthday, doctors didn’t expect him to walk again. “I disregarded their prognosis,” he said later in an interview with a Pawling school publication.
He regained mobility with help from a walker and enjoyed six more years of shuttling between homes in Gulf Stream, Fla., and Far Hills, N.J. “I like to be in New Jersey when the tulips are blooming,” he said. “I’m a big fan of tulips.”