Robert Harrison Bolton, a retired city water department supervisor and decorated World War II veteran, died of a heart attack Friday at Millennium Health Services in Ellicott City.
The Ellicott City resident was 87.
Born in Green Spring Valley at his grandmother's residence, Penn-y-Brynn, he belonged to a family whose roots include Jabez Whittaker, who arrived in Jamestown, Va., on the ship Deliverance in 1609. Mr. Bolton was a 1935 McDonogh School graduate.
After two years at the Johns Hopkins University, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1937, became a medical corps member and was stationed in Hawaii. While there, he converted to Roman Catholicism. He later spent more than 50 years directing choirs and singing at the parishes of St. Agnes, St. Paul and Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
He returned to Baltimore in November 1941 but re-enlisted after the attack at Pearl Harbor, where several of his friends perished.
"The news of Pearl Harbor upset him so much," said his son Stephen G. Bolton, a Wilmer Eye Clinic researcher who lives in Baltimore. "He was patriotic man who was very principled."
Trained as a pilot, he took his first solo flight in a Stearman open-cockpit biplane. Assigned to the European theater, he flew 50 missions in a B-24 over the Romanian oilfields, Austria and North Africa.
Family members said he had a pet parrot named Joe Smoke, which he often tucked in his flight jacket in the cold cockpit. Its named derived from Italian children who would approach him and request a cigarette by asking, "Joe, smoke?"
In 1943 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the highest flight decoration, for guiding his unit through a strategically difficult mission over Italy. He attained the rank of captain.
On one mission, he was given a set of Austrian civilian clothing to wear if he had to make an unexpected landing.
"He was instructed to go to a large city, find a streetcar line and ride back and forth from end to end three times. The Resistance people would find him," his son said. "In later years, he rarely spoke of his war experiences. It was difficult for him. He did what he did well, but he did not relish it. He did it because he thought it the right thing to do."
After the war, he worked briefly for Capitol Airlines, then coordinated troop transportation from an office at Fort Meade.
He later became an administrator and supervisor for the Baltimore City Water Department, retiring in 1979. He worked at the Ashburton Water Treatment Plant and later at the Municipal Building in downtown Baltimore.
In 1944 he married the former Elinora Bowdoin, a French literature instructor at Catholic University and the University of Maryland, who survives him. They lived many years in a house they built on Landing Road near Ellicott City, where they raised their 10 children.
"It was never a question that anyone could stay with us. He provided a welcome place at the table for foreign students, neighbors, friends of friends and foster children, too," his son said.
Mr. Bolton kept a greenhouse and raised and tended orchids that he would make into prom and cotillion corsages for his sons and their friends. He taught himself Mandarin Chinese and played the piano and guitar.
A longtime patron of Center Stage and the Baltimore Symphony, he was also a member of the Maryland Orchid Society and a subscriber for many years to the Bachelors Cotillon.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, 3755 St. Paul St., Ellicott City, where he was a member.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include six other sons, Timothy W. Bolton of Fort Myers Beach, Fla., Robert G. Bolton of Catonsville, Christopher J. Bolton of Marietta, Ga., John A. Bolton of Columbia, , Andrew J. Bolton of Washington, and James G. Bolton of Ellicott City; three daughters, Katharine W. Bolton of Petaluma, Calif., Alice B. Little of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Mary T. Hipsley of Catonsville; a sister, Mary Ames Alfriend of Pasadena; 19 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.