Robert D. Cardwell Jr., an accomplished pilot and retired Air Force brigadier general, died Dec. 23 at his Bel Air home of complications from cancer and Parkinson’s disease. He was 82.
General Cardwell was born in Baltimore to Robert D. Cardwell Sr., who worked in insurance, and the former Grace Eleanor Johnson, a homemaker.
A 1954 graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic High School, he began his lengthy Air Force career that same year, graduating with his pilot’s wings from Reese Air Force Base near Lubbock, Texas.
Before he was sent to Japan for his first Air Force assignment at Ashiya Air Force Base in 1955, Mr. Cardwell married his childhood sweetheart, the former Mary Virginia Clayton.
The two met at age 12 while attending Roland Park Junior High School, his wife recalled.
“He kissed me in a cloakroom,” she said. “When I was 14, he gave me his Boy Scout ring. When I was 16, he gave me a gold band. When I was 17, he gave me his Poly ring. When I was 18, he gave me an engagement ring.”
Mrs. Cardwell said she sent her husband more than 1,000 letters during the 18 months he served in Japan.
In 1957, he was assigned to fly C-130 planes out of Ardmore Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
General Cardwell later joined the Maryland Air National Guard as a full-time airman. He held a variety of positions, starting as a troop carrier pilot and progressing to commander of the 135th Tactical Air Support Squadron, director of operations of the 135th Tactical Airlift Group and group commander of the 135th Tactical Airlift Group.
In 1989, he was named chief of staff for air at the Maryland National Guard headquarters in Baltimore, and in 1990 he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
“He did that without a college education,” Mrs. Cardwell said. “He came right out of high school, and … made his way to the top.”
During his career, General Cardwell flew more than 7,500 hours and earned the rating of command pilot.
He flew a variety of planes in his career, but primarily the C-130, a military transport aircraft. “The C-130 was his baby,” Mrs. Cardwell said.
In 2003, General Cardwell lent a scrapbook covering his military service as well as his last-worn officer’s cap to a military exhibit at the Historical Society of Harford County titled “Answering the Call.”
He told The Baltimore Sun at the time that holding the cap in his hands again, his primary thought was: “Where did all the years go?”
He earned many awards during his military career, including the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal with one Oak Cluster and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
The state of Maryland also honored General Cardwell with a Distinguished Service Cross, a Meritorious Service Medal and a State Service Ribbon with three bronze bottony crosses.
General Cardwell, who retired in 1995, belonged to the National Guard Association of the United States, the National Guard Association of Maryland and the Air Force Association.
He was an avid sailor for more than four decades, with voyages that included three trips to Bermuda with friends using only celestial navigation. He also sailed on the Chesapeake Bay, including trips to St. Michaels and Oxford on the Eastern Shore.
He enjoyed golfing with a group of friends and reading nonfiction books, especially astronomy books, family members said.
General Cardwell loved the couple’s dog, a 10-pound Maltipoo named Sadie, who stationed herself on his hospice bed in his final days, his wife said.
“He got too sick to walk the puppy, but that puppy was in his lap 24-7, all day long,” Mrs. Cardwell said. “He just said she was so much comfort for him.”
General Cardwell attended Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, where he worked on building projects, including construction of the church’s columbarium.
Barbara Tower served on the columbarium committee that Mr. Cardwell chaired.
“He just had tremendous follow-through, tremendous dedication,” she said. “I would be willing to say if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have the columbarium.”
General Cardwell was a devoted friend with a strong faith, Ms. Tower said.
“If you speak to anybody in the church, they will tell you he was a very humble man,” she said. “He was very accomplished. Certainly he would do anything for anyone, but he was very humble about anything he did.”
A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 13 at his church, 10 Lexington Road in Bel Air.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Cardwell is survived by a son, Robert D. Cardwell III of Street; a daughter, Valerie Johnson of Forest Hill; six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren; and four step-great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by an infant son.