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Robert Clay, a familiar face to anyone conducting archival research at the Library of Virginia from 1970 until his retirement in 2001, died May 6, 2010.  I had the pleasure of working with Bob for the first two years of my employment at the Library in the late 1990s.  As a new member of the archives reference staff, I had much to learn and Bob was an excellent teacher.  I bombarded him with questions about Virginia Land Office patents and grants, Revolutionary War bounty warrants, Confederate pensions, chancery causes, and tithables.

He patiently and graciously answered every one of my many queries.  I also watched him work with patrons and marveled at his ability to deal with any situation (good or bad) without losing his good humor.  My favorite memory of Bob involves a reference call I received concerning coat of arms.  Let’s just say that the caller was…..difficult; my lack of knowledge on the subject did not help matters.  Unable to answer the caller’s questions to their satisfaction, I transferred the call to Bob.  Later, when I followed up with him in order to learn more about the topic, he looked at me, smiled and in a mischievous voice said “don’t ever do that again.” He then handed me this sketch!

Please use the comment section of this post to share your memories of Bob.

-Roger Christman, LVA Senior State Records Archivist

Roger Christman

Senior State Records Archivist


  • Tim Spradling says:

    I met Bob in the early 1990s when I started coming to the State Archives in Richmond. We shared a common surname, as my Mother’s maiden name was CLAY. We connected, as Cousins, way up the line. Bob became my mentor on how to search the archives and document your sources. Bob and I would go out to eat one night every time I came to the archives, which was three weeks a year. We became good friends and discussed not only genealogy, but his painting and travel. I considered Bob to be one of my best friends and will deeply miss him. Sincerely, Tim Spradling

  • Sharon Stine says:

    I was researching my great grandmother’s pension papers in the Archives. My 5 year son came in while I was ordering a copy of the application. He explained to Mr Clay that that was information on his great great grandmother and he wanted to take the papers with him. Mr Clay very nicely explained that he would give him a copy. My son was not to happy but Mr Clay was so kind to explain why we couldn’t take the papers home with us. It took a little talking but my son finally agreed to the copy.

  • Susan Hamburger says:

    I worked with Bob from 1988 to 1993 when I was head of the Description Section. He was a really nice man but what I remember most about him is the way he slammed the phone down onto the receiver after a particular irksome call. It’s a good thing they made sturdy old phones because the new ones could not withstand a Bob Clay hang-up. RIP old friend.

  • Abercrombie says:

    So many memories of Bob. He was one of my first contacts when I began doing genealogy. He always responded nicely when I requested to “pick his brain.” Looking back over the years – how absurd some of my questions must have been!!! Loved the way Bob said gen e al o gy. He was so informative as a speaker and a good friend of the VGS.

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