The “Lawnmower Man” of South Congaree passes away
South Congaree, SC (Paul Kirby) – South Congaree’s “Lawnmower Man”, Robert Shumpert passed away last Thursday, August 13, 2020 at the age of 79. Robert was a true character that made most who knew him have a bit more brightness in their day as he inspired others not to take themselves or their day too seriously. Life was simple for Robert so why shouldn’t it be for everyone else?
Robert was a little different than most; Some may have even referred to him as special. If they ever meant that as an insult, it wasn’t insulting at all to Robert. Talking about how Robert was different in any negative way was a sure-fire way of getting yourself in hot water with South Congaree residents. Robert was special! In soul and spirit and he added to the community as much as he ever accepted from it in return.
Robert had many names during his 79 years. Besides his Christian name, some called him “Biscuit” and other nicknames that were well-known to the older residents of the South Congaree area. The “Lawnmower Man” was probably the most recognized because for years, that’s just what Robert was. He came by the name because a lawnmower was Robert’s preferred method of transportation. He drove his lawnmower everywhere he went around town and he didn’t stay home much in those days.
Over the years, Robert owned many different colors, brands, and models of lawnmowers. Believe it when you hear that any changes to Robert’s mower were the talk of the town for a few days. If he added an accessory, some “Baby Moon” hubcaps, or even a decal or a new seat, these slight changes to his mower would become the major news for South Congaree’s regulars that week. When Robert decided to buy a new mower, many South Congaree residents knew it almost immediately. It was a topic of conversation over many family dinner tables as someone had to be the first to ask, “Have you seen the ‘Lawnmower Man’s’ new ride?” Then, the comparisons began. Some preferred his older mower, others loved the new one, and still others had a suggestion for something that would make his new one a little better. Suddenly Robert Shumpert was the talk of the day in the barber shop, the auto mechanic’s garage, and anywhere else people congregated. It lightened the mood of a hectic day and made life’s problems seem insignificant when the hottest topic of conversation that day was Robert and his new mower!
Robert was seen alone for many years but then one day, a lady showed up in his life. Most assumed she was his “girlfriend.” His family probably knew more about that relationship than anyone else. While some thought Robert’s lawnmower travelling days might be over now that he had a passenger, you could tell those folks just didn’t know Robert well. He began using an old trailer he sometimes pulled behind his mower to tow his lady friend around town as she sat in a plastic chair. There was absolutely no shame in that game and the pair were oblivious to the fact that everyone else traveled by some other means. Robert, his lawnmower, that trailer, and his girlfriend will still bring a smile to the faces of anyone who remembers those days when it comes up in conversation.
Robert was different and wasn’t ashamed of that. He lived with his parents until they died. He then was on his own, but only when he was home. He was never really alone in love or spirit. He had family members near by him that checked on him regularly and deeply loved him.
He had an almost childish innocence and attitude toward the world and its complicated problems. For Robert, life was simple for him, so why wasn’t if that way for everyone else?
Still, Robert’s relatives were busy raising families and had lives of their own. Most simply didn’t see that as the years passed, Robert’s home deteriorated, and his living conditions became unacceptable. Only after this situation was pointed out to town officials by a utility company employee did people really recognize that as Robert aged, so had the mobile home he lived in.
At that time in his life, members of his living family and his church family from Ebenezer Pentecostal Holiness came together and decided to do something about how Robert lived. After some planning and discussion, it was decided that the community would come together and build Robert a new house. With much of the material and labor donated, a little house rose from its foundation until it was as Robert called it, “beautiful.” It was small, easy to take care of, and perfect for Robert. Even the cupboards and refrigerator were stocked with some of his favorite foods and drinks the day that Robert moved in. It was widely covered by the local media and even if just for a short while, Robert, “Biscuit”, or South Congaree’s “Lawnmower Man” became as famous to the Midlands as he was to everyone around town.
That gift of a new home made a significant change in Robert’s life. You could see he was taking better care of himself, had more pride, and really cared about looking sharp when he’d sit down near the front in church each Sunday morning. If ever there were a life changing gift, that little home changed Robert’s as much as any gift ever has ever changed anything.
After the house was finished and Robert moved in, he just took better care of himself. He dressed for church, shaved more often, and lost his old toboggan for more fashionable headgear. When he posed with his guitar as some character, he really looked like a Texas crooner or one of the Blues Brothers and he and everyone else loved it right along with Robert!
Robert Edward Lee Shumpert, “The Lawnmower Man” of South Congaree lived until the day he took his last breath loved by family and a community that knew his as a simple man. Perhaps some were envious of how easy he made life’s problems seem by simply doing things like driving a lawnmower when he needed to get somewhere. The day he passed; his family was by his side as he walked into the arms of Jesus. God gained a new angel, a spirit that never really recognized a problem as such. To Robert, those problems were simply little hills he’d cruise over on a Craftsman lawnmower painted red with custom hubcaps!