I never met him, except through the ether and the wires of the Internet. I made his acquaintance through Floyd’s old board in August of 2001, unaware that his effort was still fledgling and fluctuating.
Bob had served in the radio newsroom of the American Forces Network Europe, the largest affiliate of the largest radio and television operation in the world that you’ve probably never heard of, about half a decade before I had arrived there.
That was as close as we ever got to meeting. He had been in Vietnam before he had been in Germany and shortly after the assignment in Frankfurt he, recently married, decided to pursue his broadcasting on the home front, in this case in South Carolina.
Sometime between working for the ABC (I think) affiliate in Charlotte, pursuing photography (really his first love) and living quietly with his wife, he found the time to start up a newsletter before all of this world wide web stuff was even a gleam in Al G’s eye. I’d hate to think what he spent in postage, but I know he didn’t regard it as an expense or as work.
The newsletter, as I said, became a Yahoo group which was an accurate enough descriptive as well as being the name of the ISP that supported it. In short order he went from a handful of subscribers to a fistful to an armful to well over four hundred.
I knew him for over a decade and admired his ability to keep hundreds of thin-skinned, large-egoed buttheads (it takes one to know one, she said) who loved to hear ourselves talk, or in this case, type, from eating one another hair and all (the good news was some of us were getting up in years and hair was a rationed commodity). Someone had to use a chair and a whip on occasion and Bob was that someone.
His online group, I think a therapy for him, was the bridge many of us from different decades of service used to find one another. In many instances that notorious six degrees of separation often only reached three and you would be among friends.
His health was never good. He had COPD when I first began corresponding with him and within a few years he was alone as his wife was ravaged by Alzheimer’s and his own health continued to fail. We spoke once years earlier when I called him after he had been hospitalized for a shortness of breath that nearly killed him. He was in constant pain and used his time online with his virtual friends to distract himself while amusing and amazing all of us.
Despite his history it was still an unhappy surprise two days ago to read a posting by someone (else) whom I didn’t know, telling all of us he was hospitalized yet again and was failing badly and rapidly. The watch started and the stream of updates was relentlessly grim. Each posted report was bleaker than the one preceding it. His heart and lungs, weakened from five or so decades of three plus packs of cigarettes a day, betrayed him and it was his sister, Bea, who had to decide to remove him from life support when all that could be done had been.
Bob assisted by accomplishing DNR and end of life directives years earlier. I can still recall exchanges he and I had on the subject and the eloquence with which wrote underscored the passion he felt on the decisions he was making. Yesterday afternoon it was time. He lived an unassuming, purpose-driven life, and his departure reflected all of that.
Large events moved across the world’s stage, thundering and reverberating as they will. In the silence between those rolls of thunder, Bob stopped hurting, finally, took his leave and hundreds of us across the globe and across the generations, can do nothing more than try to hold back our tears, remember the kind words and warm thoughts and be glad we knew him.
If prayers can help, and I’ve long since stopped believing they do, then I hope for the departed and those left behind, here’s one that does.