To his readers and colleagues, Bob Driver was the deadline-abiding “newspaperman” who, since 1977, reliably submitted his dry-humored opinion columns, “The Driver’s Seat,” for Tampa Bay Newspapers and the now-extinct Clearwater Sun.
To Elizabeth Armstrong, he was the final love of her life.
Driver never stopped writing his regular work, which included details of his day-to-day thoughts and earthly musings, until he died of a heart attack on May 18 at the age of 90.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Driver moved back to Massachusetts to live with his family in the last couple decades of his life; Armstrong lives in Gulfport with no plans of moving.
They made the long distance work for the last 18 years, regularly visiting each other, traveling on lavish vacations and talking via phone and email at least 10 times a day.
“Moving wasn’t necessary, and we both wanted to be with our families,” Armstrong, an Atlanta native, said.
Even today as she sorts through her emails with Driver, she’s amazed at just how much writing he sent, from little love notes to musings on the nature of life.
“A mutual friend just suggested I call him one day, said he’d just moved up north from Florida and he was bound to be lonely,” Armstrong said. “Well, we talked so much that when I finally met him in person, it felt like I’d known him forever.”
It wasn’t long before references to a “Carolina Moon” started peppering “The Driver’s Seat.”
“I’m in Gulfport visiting my gorgeous sweetheart Carolina Moon. Up north, where I live, people are either freezing or getting ready to do so. I am searching for a column topic and not having much luck,” Driver wrote in a 2018 column titled “Writing Projects Never Quite Finished.”
Both Driver and Armstrong had been married multiple times, with previous children and previous lives, so the two settled on an unlikely relationship, relying on regular travel up and down the coast, even traveling to England together once.
“I’d had my own adventures long before I met Bob,” Armstrong said, recalling her time living on a boat with no engine in the Miami River.
Driver, who was open about his status as a sober alcoholic, shared his struggles with Armstrong, who also identifies as a recovering alcoholic.
“The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous suggest making a list of persons we have harmed, and then trying to make amends to them all,” Driver wrote in 2017. “I wish I had a nickel for every guilt hangup these suggestions have helped erase down through the years.”
Though the years of addiction struggles were long past for the two, they bonded over the pain and adventure of those times.
“But we had such a marvelous life together,” Armstrong remembers. “I really think this was the best relationship either of us ever had; and to think, someone just told me to call him out of the blue.”
When the Clearwater Sun production came to a halt in 1989, Driver only paused his work for a brief moment before getting picked up by Tampa Bay Newspapers.
“He was a brilliant writer, and a very good interviewer,” Armstrong said. “I think that’s why he was so good, because he loved getting to know people.”
The Pennsylvania native was born into a traveling family in 1930, with a father who worked in railway construction. Driver moved more than a dozen times before graduating high school.
Maybe it was his tough roots, but Driver approached professional writing with a non-nonsense career drive.
After obtaining a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, where he originally began “The Driver’s Seat,” he then worked for the Syracuse Herald-Journal and The Blade, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Ohio newspaper.
Eventually, in the midst of the 1970s, the writer settled in the Pinellas County area, had two children, and served on the Indian Rocks Beach City Commission.
Not much was off limits for his opinion column – from memories of childhood to reflections of the wrongs of the Church of Scientology – and Driver exited his life with more than 1600 columns as part of his legacy. There are countless instances of Armstrong’s alias, Carolina Moon, immortalized in his writings.
“Now there was one fine gal. If mama had met Carolina, she would have thought way different about women,” Driver wrote in 2018.
Access digital archives of “The Driver’s Seat” at tbnweekly.com.