Bob Hope – A Life Well Lived

By Doug Patton

July 28, 2003

On his deathbed, they say Bob Hope was still cracking jokes. When asked where he wanted to be buried, he quipped, “Surprise me.”

He lived for a century, and no one over the age of 35 can think of him without cracking a smile. His self-deprecating humor truly was funny. From Vaudeville to radio, from movies to television, this genuinely good and decent man sang, danced, acted and joked his way through a career that lasted longer than the average person lives.

Born in Great Britain in 1903, Bob Hope conquered virtually every aspect of the entertainment industry with gusto and humility. For three generations of military personnel, from World War II to the 1990-91 Persian Gulf conflict, he made us laugh.

His fellow entertainers remember him being the same man off stage as he was on. He seemed to exude a great deal of that which his name implied. Not to unduly canonize the man, but try to recall another such selfless individual in the business of entertainment.

So what was his secret? Did he live in exceptional times? Or was he just an exceptional talent? Or was it something else?

What did Bob Hope bring to his craft that was so special? I think it was an appreciation for the great blessing he had received and a love for the country that gave him such opportunity. He could have retired at any point along that long trail of GIs he entertained. A star and a rich man many times over, he seemed to understand the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping, and he could always be counted upon to give more than he could ever possibly receive.

Bob Hope’s service to America’s military personnel was legendary, and I believe it was service to them that drove him to all those foreign battlefields. How many men saw one of his shows just before going into combat for the last time? A friend to more than a few presidents, he always said that when he entertained the troops, he was not necessarily pro-Republican or pro-Democrat but rather he was simply pro-GI. He didn’t have to tell that to the GIs in the field. They knew it.

He approached the craft of comedy in a way that is rare today. He didn’t have to resort to insulting others or demeaning his audience with filthy language. He was able to convey a great sense of humor without the shock value that so frequently makes up the repertoire of many of today’s comics.

I have no way of gauging Bob Hope’s spiritual condition, but the day after his death, I attended a luncheon for a local service club. At the end of the invocation, the minister prayed, “And Lord, we hope you enjoy Bob Hope as much as we did.”

Now, that is a fitting epitaph for a life well lived.


Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a political speechwriter and public policy advisor at the federal, state and local levels. His weekly columns can be read in newspapers across the country, and on, where he serves as the Nebraska Editor. He also writes for Talon News Service ( Readers can e-mail him at __________________________________________________________________