Gates, Robert Woodrow

Robert “Bob” Woodrow Gates, Colonel, USAF (Retired)
January 23, 1919 – August 09, 2014

Colonel (Ret.) Robert W. Gates, former Mayor of Fort Walton Beach, passed away on August 9, 2014. He was born in Bradley, South Dakota on January 23, 1919.

Bob joined the Army Air Corps prior to World War II. He served his country in the United States Air Force from 1941 to 1972 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in April 1942. Colonel Gates was proud to have served our country in three wars. In World War II, he was the commander of the 88th Troop Carrier Squadron, a C-47 squadron that dropped paratroopers over Normandy on D-Day. Colonel Gates headed many task forces during his career and completed tours of duty during World War II, Korean War, and the Viet Nam War in Alaska, England, France, Italy, and Belgium. In 1955 he commanded the 4087th Air Transport Group which had the job of air supply for the Distant Early Warning Line across the Arctic. Gates then commanded the Huron Task Force, which established the Huron radar sites on the Greenland ice cap. From 1956-1957 he was the commander of project “Ice Skate”, which completed the construction of a permanent base on a floating ice island near the North Pole, as part of the United States contribution to the International Geophysical Year. In 1967, he took command of the 6200th Material Wing at Clark AFB in the Philippines. He then became the Inspector General for the 13th Air Force. Colonel Gates was the first commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field. While its commander, the 1st SOW received numerous awards, including the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award and Hurlburt was named the Most Improved Base in the Tactical Air Command.

Colonel Gates’ military decorations include the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation medal, and the French Croix-de-Guerre. He also received a Presidential Citation from President Franklin Roosevelt. He logged over 16,000 hours of flying during his career in several aircraft including the C-47, C-3, PT-19, BT-9, AT-9, C-60, B-26, A-26, B-24, SA-16, C-54, C-119, C-82, SH-53, H-1, P-40, P-38, F-80, T-33, T-39, C-130, C-46, and the C-118.

Upon retirement from the Air force in 1972, Bob began a career in real estate. He continued his public service in the Fort Walton Beach area, devoting his efforts to the construction of the Bob Hope Village, a local retirement complex for widows of servicemen. In 2003, the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation donated the funds for the construction of the Bob Gates Welcome Center at Bob Hope Village. Bob was a member of the Elks, Daedalians, Krewe of Bowlegs, Veteran of Foreign Wars, Air Commando Association (inducted into the Hall of Fame), a founder and charter member of The American Air Museum in Britain, and a founder and charter member of the Air Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base. In 2007, Bob received the USO Spirit of Hope Award for his lifetime contributions to the USO. Bob’s passion for the USO began in 1942, during Bob Hope’s first USO tour, when then Lt. Gates was assigned to fly Bob Hope and his troupe around the Alaskan and Pacific Theatres. On the very first trip to Alaska, Colonel Gates and Bob Hope began a lifelong friendship. Colonel Gates piloted many more USO tours for Hope, including several to Viet Nam.

Bob is survived by his five children, Robert W. Gates II and wife, Linda of Bell Buckle, TN, William (Bill) Gates and wife, Elaine of Ft. Walton Bch., Michael and wife, Cindy of Shalimar, Fl., Kimberly Gates Keeler and husband, Jim of Shalimar, FL., and Kathleen Gates Ard and husband, Rob of Ft. Walton Bch. These children gave him ten wonderful grandchildren, Paula, Robert W. Gates III, Steve Gates, Matthew Gates, Sarah Gates, Mary Kathryn Gates, Peyton Keeler, Austin Keeler, Trevor Ard and Kendall Ard. Bob is also survived by his sister-in-law, Mary Gates and ten great-grandchildren. Bob also leaves behind his loyal companion, Lucky, his rescued dog.

Bob is preceded in death by his parents Ray and Iva Gates, brothers, Ellis and Donald, and sister, Dorothy. Funeral services will be entrusted to Emerald Coast Funeral Home. The family wishes to thank all the people that provided care and comfort to our father.
Visitation will be on Wednesday, Aug. 13th, at 10:00 a.m., followed by a funeral mass at 11:00 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Burial will follow at Beal Memorial Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Air Force Enlisted Village, Shalimar, Florida. Expressions of love and sympathy may be viewed online at


August 14, 2014 10:37 AM
My loving memory and deepest regrets to the Gates family and friends, In the loss of one of our most loving, caring, community minded supporters and my friend. I don’t believe Bob ever met a stranger. He will be missed. My the angels greet him with honor, as he enters the gates of heaven..
Alayne Smith

August 13, 2014 at 09:06 AM
Lost a great friend and a great American. Sorry I cannot physically attend the funeral, but I will always cherish our friendship.
Charley Bonadonna

August 12 at 09:11 PM
To Family of Colonel Bob Gates, You, and this country, lost a great American. It is my great honor to have serviced with Colonel Gates and to know him. God bless,
Colonel Bill Colgan

August 12 at 08:21 PM
We are sorry for your loss. Mr Gates had a great and exciting life that he shared with family and friends. We share your grief and extend our condolences.
Cam and Craig Knox

August 12 at 12:58 PM
May you have peace and comfort during your time of loss. We look forward to a time when we can spend eternity with our precious loved ones. (Isaiah 25:8) He will actually swallow up death forever, and the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will certainly wipe the tears from all faces.

August 12 at 12:22 PM
Lit a candle in memory of Robert Woodrow Gates
Barbara Clary Kelly

August 12 at 07:40 AM
Robert served God, country and his fellow man well. He lived his life providing protection, care and comfort to many. His work will bear much fruit for many generations. Our prayers are with his family.
Geraldine M. Baker

August 11 at 05:06 PM
Mike sorry for your loss… but what a great life your dad lived!  The world could use more people like him that choose to serve others.
John and Rhonda Hambleton

August 11 at 12:08 PM
Rest in peace, Uncle Bob. You were one of the most influential people in my life. You will never be forgotten.

August 11 at 11:11 AM
Our profound sympathy and sincerest condolences in the loss of your loved one, our great friend and comrade.
Air Commando Association

August 11 at 10:23 AM
Lit a candle in memory of Robert Woodrow Gates
The Staff of Emerald Coast Funeral Home

August 11 at 07:15 AM
“Thanks for the memories”… always your friends,
Aimee Shaffer and Lucky Gates

August 10 at 08:06 PM
Lit a candle in memory of Robert Woodrow Gates.

August 10 at 04:19 PM
Lit a candle in memory of Robert Woodrow Gates
Robert Ard

August 10 at 02:36 PM
Lit a candle in memory of Robert Woodrow Gates
Grace Wheeler

August 10 at 11:07 AM
Lit a candle in memory of Robert Woodrow Gates
Mary and Jim Keeler

August 12 at 09:16 PM
Sincere sympathy to the family. I had not seen him for many years but enjoyed reading about his life. His mother (Iva) and my grandfather (Bert Goodell) were brother and sister. Blessings to each family member!
Audrey (Fromke) Hill

Integrity, Honor, and Respect
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