When I moved to Alaska, I was green. So green. I saw the world through the eyes of the 22 years old idealist that I was; a world where every damaged person and every fractured limb of our broken world could be made whole again with a little TLC.
That idealism drove me to teach; first, high school in North Carolina and then adults at a little non-profit in Alaska. That’s where I first met Bob. He was the Deputy Director at the time I was hired. Seasoned, grounded, witty, and kind, I immediately gravitated to him for his counsel.
As the years passed, I grew in my career (and myself) at this little non-profit and it was undoubtedly because of a handful of mentors, Bob being at the top of that list. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. As all strong leaders do, he drew that ‘something’ out of me and helped her shine. Even in the times my idealism waxed and waned.
When I was a continent away from my own, Bob became a father-figure to me. There was no doubt in my mind, that if I needed anything while living thousands of miles away from home, he and his beloved wife, Colleen, would be there to help in any way they could. I’ve lived in many places, and I live in a place now where most people keep strangers at arm’s length. And it is rare to find people who, alternatively, take strangers under their wing to help them grow, to feel secure or less homesick, to feel loved…
I found out Sunday that Bob passed away. And my heart is broken.
I selfishly look at my broken heart at this moment and know it will be made whole again with time. And calling on memories to help me remember all the lessons, the laughs, and the comfort I received from my colleague and friend.
One weekend, Chris and I were invited by Bob and another coworker, Tom, to accompany them on their yearly fishing trip to Valdez. We jumped at the chance to go, packing our little Subaru with all the camping gear we owned and headed south for the long weekend.
When we arrived, as the skies in Valdez are prone to do, the clouds dumped rain on us while we were setting up our tent. They dumped rain on us nearly every moment of that trip. But it didn’t interfere with us having a good time.
The night before our big fishing adventure, Bob, Chris, Tom, and I huddled under the lip of Tom’s camper. We grilled out. And we drank Crown Royal. There was so much Crown Royal. That night, I learned about Bob’s time in Vietnam. He served our country as an aviation medical technician/hospital corpsman in the Navy. I learned about his family, his time as a broadcast journalist in Washington state, and his time as a teacher and administrator. Through every reinvention, he cared about people. Here was a man coming to the end of his 2nd act, working fewer hours and looking forward to retirement, and he still managed to believe in a world where every damaged person and every fractured limb of our broken world could be made whole again with a little TLC. If he could hold on to that idea well into his 2nd act, I could hold on to it too.
The next day, we fished. We caught our fair share of salmon. Bob got just as much delight in seeing me reel in a fish as he did reeling in a big one himself. Because that was the type of person he was.
Tonight, I will honor Bob’s memory the best way I know how; with a swig of Crown Royal under the stars.