By RICHARD FAUSSET
New York Times News Service
GOOSE CREEK, S.C. -- The blue eyes of Pamela Ross, 54, wince and cloud when she thinks back on the years she spent with her ex-husband, Robert L. Dear Jr. They were together 16 years or so and married for about a dozen of them.
He was not a perfect man, she said, but he was a good man. He was good to the son they had together, now 25, whom they raised in Walterboro, S.C., about an hour west of Charleston, with her son from a previous relationship.
She acknowledged Saturday she had once called the police about him but declined to talk about it. A police incident report shows in 1997 she told the police he had locked her out of her home and "hit her and pushed her out the window" when she tried to climb in. He also shoved her to the ground. The report said she did not want to file charges but "wanted something on record of this incident occurring." Dear could be angry at times, she said, sometimes angry with her. But he was the kind who usually followed a flash of anger with an apology.
And yet this was the man she recognized Saturday morning. She knew it was Rob, as she used to call him, when she saw a picture of the back of him flash across her television screen, as the news of a five-hour siege at a Planned Parenthood clinic came in from Colorado Springs.
"It never ever, ever, ever crossed my mind" that he would be capable of such a thing, she said. "My heart just fell to my stomach." Ross divorced Dear in 2000. She has since remarried and has seen him only once or twice in the last 15 years. Their divorce was amicable, and he moved shortly thereafter, to the Asheville, North Carolina, region.
She recalled a big man, well-groomed, gentle and pleasant but not much for chitchat. They met around 1984 in a Charleston drugstore. He approached her and asked her to help him pick out a shade of makeup for his sister. Then he asked for her number and it went from there.
Dear was an independent art dealer, with a degree in public administration from a Midwestern college, Ross said. He was born in Charleston and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, but had strong ties to South Carolina. His father was a graduate of the Citadel, Charleston's famous public military college. Robert Lewis Dear Sr., the father, died in 2004. He was a U.S. Navy veteran who served in World War II and worked 40 years for the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co.
The younger Dear was raised in the Baptist church, Ross said. He was religious but not a regular churchgoer and not one to harp on his faith.
"He believed wholeheartedly in the Bible. That's what he always said, he read it cover to cover to cover," she said. But he wasn't fixated on it, she added.
He was generally conservative but not obsessed with politics. He kept guns around the house for protection and hunting, and he taught their son to hunt doves, as many Southern fathers do. He believed that abortion was wrong, but it was not something he spoke about compulsively.
"It was never really a topic of discussion," Ross said.
He did not have many close friends.
Dear listened to rock music like U2. He liked to ride motorcycles. He was a jogger. He ate healthy. He lifted weights. And he was dedicated to his work. It involved striking deals with artists, mostly Southern ones, who painted Charleston street scenes, Old South plantation tableaus, magnolias, pictures of the Citadel campus. He tended to buy the rights to paintings, commission prints of 1,000 or so and then market the prints.
He was also artistically inclined, occasionally painting abstract works. He was also dedicated to his family. On the weekends, Ross said, he would ask them where they wanted to go: Shopping in Savannah? To the beach in Hilton Head? To Charleston? "Wherever I wanted to go, he would take me," she said.
After the divorce, Dear asked her to stay. He eventually took custody of their son, who was 12 at the time. Dear raised him in North Carolina. Ross said she was confident that he would be a good parent and role model. And as far as she knows, he was.
They mostly lost touch over the years, but she and her new husband visited North Carolina seven or eight years ago and Dear seemed to be in good spirits. They had come to see her son. Dear invited them in and they stayed for about five minutes. She later heard, about two years ago, that he had moved to Colorado.
On Saturday morning, the man she saw on television seemed much more haggard than the man she knew. She has asked herself many times what may have gone wrong.
"Something must have happened to him when he moved away, that's all I know, she said. "Me and our whole family are extremely devastated and heartbroken by the victims of these families, and we have no words that can ever comfort them other than to say we're sorry for what he did."