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Sailor Bob

Children's TV host Bob Griggs

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Accompanied by puppets Gilly Gull, Squeeky Mouse, Captain Paddles, Sparkey and Mr. Bluebird, Sailor Bob drew whimsical caricatures between Popeye cartoons. The show was a hit and aired weekdays on the station for 10 years.

As Sailor Bob, Bob Griggs won an immediate and loyal audience in Richmond. Each month he received 8,000 pieces of mail. And in addition to the program, Sailor Bob appeared at state fairs, children's events and parades.

Today, Griggs — still Sailor Bob to some — is a quasi-retired executive-turned-consultant with Southside Builders Supply where he's worked for 30 years. Style caught up with Griggs to ask about those early TV days and how they made a lasting impression.

This writer, for example, had the happy luck of meeting Sailor Bob as a small child. There is a dusty sailor hat tucked away somewhere with her name on it, along with Sailor Bob's autograph. Not to mention a well-worn Sailor Bob coloring book. When Griggs hears this today, he sends a vintage, pristine one over.

"Back in the days of black and white — before videotape — we were doing everything live," says Griggs of his days in the studio. "Do you even remember black and white?" He laughs.

Griggs fondly recalls gentler, simpler times. "Sure, I reminisce about how times have changed. I don't know if being that low-key would work today," he says.

Griggs's career in television stemmed from necessity, he says, and a bit of serendipity.

At the time he was a cameraman with WRVA — then the NBC affiliate — a new local kid's show incorporating "Popeye" cartoons was proposed. Seven announcers were lined up to call out the sponsorships, or commercials. All that was needed was a host. That's where Griggs came in. Griggs, producers thought, showed promise. And he could draw.

"I had just studied art at RPI" (Richmond Professional Institute, the precursor to VCU), he says. And in order to fill time on the show, Griggs figured he could put his artist's skills to work. This was a success. Audiences adored Griggs's on-the-air cartooning.

"Naturally, it was of interest to the viewer," says Griggs. But the best part, he insists, was getting the mail each day. Through the years, Griggs received tens of thousands of children's drawings — children that he inspired.

"The Sailor Bob Show" ended in 1969 when Channel 12 changed its programming format. Griggs spent three years as WWBT's weatherman, infusing "weather doodles" into the daily forecasts.

In 1973, Griggs left to start Matrix, his own production company, that created educational children's programs like "The Noodle Club," "Cypher Club" and "Metric Marmalade." The low-budget locally produced shows ran in syndication until 1986.

One needs only to recall something like a sailor hat, coloring book or even the Sailor Bob hamburger and hot dog rolls to conjure up the kind and friendly Sailor Bob. And it's quite possible some grown-ups learned an important lesson or two from his simple advice to "play fair and be a good sport."

Today, Sailor Bob Griggs seems humbled and a bit surprised by such credit. "It's always rewarding to me to have someone remember," he says. "Maybe we're just looking back at the past with rose-colored glasses."

— Brandon Walters

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