Robert L. Hague (March 2, 1880 – March 8, 1939) was a sailor, shipping executive, philanthropist, and bon vivant of the highest caliber. Hague was treasurer of The Lambs during the Great Depression and used his business savvy to rescue the Club from certain doom. The Lambs may have folded without his intervention to rally the members to buy bonds to save it. For his dedication and love for the club, Hague was named an Immortal Lamb.
He was born in 1880, the product of old New England stock. His father, Rev. Henry Hague, was an Episcopal rector in Lincoln, Rhode Island, six miles north of Providence. His mother, Harriet, would be well taken care of by her son. Hague was a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. Adventure called the teen-ager and he quit school and ran away to sea. He ended up on a smack that fished the Grand Banks. He then shipped on a four-masted bark that plied between Philadelphia and Japan.
Deserting the sea, Hague learned the machinist’s trade in the Worcester plant of an American Steel and Wire Company subsidiary. He next turned to railroads, working his way up from fireman to locomotive engineer with the New York, New Haven & Hartford. In 1904 he went back to the sea as an oiler for the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company and rose to an engineer and assistant superintendent in charge of construction for the line. In 1909 he joined Standard Oil of California, advancing to marine superintendent in charge of all operations, design, and construction.
When the United States went to war, and was badly in need of shipping, Hague was drafted by the United States Shipping Board as director of construction repairs on the Pacific Coast. When the country entered World War I, he was called to Washington to take complete charge of repairs and all Shipping Board vessels. In this work Hague directed the reconditioning of captured German ships. He was 39 years old when the war ended.
After the war he joined Standard Oil of New Jersey and became manager of the marine department. Within five years he was president. By 1937 he was in charge of more than 200 ships, the largest private fleet in the world. Had he chosen, he could’ve amassed a fortune to rival a Rockefeller or an Astor. Instead he spent as he went for good living.
“No, he wasn’t a millionaire, he just had a big salary that he spent, mostly on other people,” recounted Lambs’ Shepherd and Historian, Raymond Peck. “He was uncommonly generous and bought the house next-door to his father’s parish church for his mother.”
He loved to be around actors–they called him a “stage struck sailor.” Hague was elected to The Lambs in 1919 and was wisely chosen for council. He was an obvious choice to be named treasurer.
His holiday gift baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmastime were legendary. Those in need got a complete turkey dinner with a bottle of wine. If the needy couldn’t make it to the Club, he sent their Santa Claus gifts to them via taxi. His so-called “breakfasts” in his apartment on Sunday afternoons are not to be forgotten; they didn’t begin until 3:00 p.m. One lean Christmastime, so many Lambs were sitting around with their heads in their hands that he called a friend aside and slipped him $2,500 in cash with orders to seek out 50 of the neediest and give each a $50 bill (About $775 today).
But he was nobody’s fool. Of a man who owed him $10,000, someone asked, “And he still speaks to you?”
“Yeah, he is trying to make it $12,000,” replied Hague.
He was outspoken and blunt. As the 1930s began Hague could see the club was in peril. “The financial state of the club is a very unpleasant picture,” he warned. The club was running behind $21,000 a year, $55,000 was outstanding by members, notes owed the bank amounted to $50,000, and it was facing renewal of the $315,000 mortgage ($4.8 million today). The time had come to forget the past problems and consider how to save the club.
He reported to the council, “The club has arrived at a point where the cash in its treasury is inadequate to meet, not only it’s regular obligations to tradesmen, but also those current demands which, if not met properly, will jeopardize the very existence of the club.” Members owed $56,250 in dues and $2,100 for house charges. The staff was reduced and operational expenses were slashed, but these measures were still not sufficient because the declining membership meant reduced revenues.
A turning point came at an emergency meeting of the membership called to promote the sale of mortgage bonds. Hague afterwards wrote the members, “December 29, 1931, was a day long to be remembered in the history of The Lambs, for on that day 95 of the 160 members attending a general meeting called because of financial emergency bought a total of $25,000 worth of the club’s Second Mortgage Bonds. They saved the Club. The cash realized made it possible to pay taxes and other urgent obligations and if additional subscriptions since that date continue it’ll be possible to liquidate outstanding bank loans.”
In 1935 Hague continued as club treasurer. He was given a dinner of achievement and thanks for his efforts. Broadway comedian Victor Moore later said, “Let me tell you, Bob Hague is the fellow who saved The Lambs Club. When clubs were folding all over the place and this club’s existence was threatened, Hague stepped in and within two hours, $85,000 was raised.”
Hague was married four times. One of his wives was model Edith Bober; they were the victims in a sensational jewel robbery in her apartment in 1924. Hague’s fourth wife, Mary Lewis, was a soprano in the Ziegfeld Follies and the Metropolitan Opera.
He lived a grand life with his friends: On October 9, 1936, Hague was one of 72 passengers aboard the German airship Hindenburg on a New York excursion. It departed Lakehurst, New Jersey, for a ten hour tour over Manhattan. This trip was dubbed the “Millionaires Flight” by newspaper reporters. Seven months later was the fateful airship disaster.
Hague had been in good health until he suffered a severe attack of influenza on a business trip to London early in 1939. On his return he went to Arizona to recuperate and then to Palm Springs. Upon hearing the Esso Baytown, one of his tankers, was answering an SOS call from the Flying Boat Cavalier, Hague flew from Palm Springs to New York to personally direct the rescue operations. Soon after, when he should have been resting at home, he instead was officiating at the commissioning and launch of two new U.S. Navy tankers.
At the time of his death from cirrhosis of the liver on March 8, 1939, Hague was estranged from his wife, Mary Lewis, and living in the Ritz Tower on Park Avenue. When Hague died, a tribute show about his charitable lifestyle was carried on 100 radio stations across the nation.
Services were held at the Little Church Around the Corner, attended by his Brother Lambs, former Mayor Jimmy Walker, and Sophie Tucker. A bronze plaque in the church reads: “In Memory of Robert L. Hague. He built a monument of love in the hearts of all who knew him.” He is interred in the family plot in Hope Cemetery in Worcester.
During World War II, the U.S. Maritime Commission Liberty Ship, #2240, was named the Robert L. Hague, to honor his devotion to U.S. shipping.