Memories of my friend Bob
My friend and brother Bob was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike July 5, 2019. For my friends that are hearing about this for the first time, my condolences and my apologies for telling you this way.
These are a few of my memories of the man I knew.
Hawaii, where Nani-Jay was born and both she and Bob grew up, has a phrase called ohana. It means family, but it’s real meaning is those that feel like your family, that treat you like family and vice versa. My initial impression was that this was a phrase created by the Hawaiian tourism bureau, a romantic idea to go along with the exotic islands. Nani-Jay and Bob showed me differently, that this word was based on feelings and actions. Our families have been ohanas together for a long long time.
I was talking with Bob about a rugby match we played once against a traveling Tongan team. He told me that part of the island greeting, shared by Hawaiians, Tongans and others, between men was to touch foreheads, noses close together breathing the same air. I only did this with him once, halfway joking, certain he was going to punch me. But I can say that I greeted my brother properly and breathed the same air as he.
On a long international flight, my friend Bob was reading The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks. Bob always looked like a tough guy, the guy that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, even after his hair turned grey. But he was bawling his eyes out, to the distress of the stewardesses on this plane. Nani-Jay read it and cried, as did Audrey. They all read it in one sitting. So they decided to give the book the ultimate test…they gave it to me.
Bob and Nani-Jay called (they frequently called together) and asked how my reading of the book was coming and where was I at. I told them what page I was on, but that I had put the book aside as the Rockets were playing. Bob immediately asked to talk to Audrey, and got the report that I hadn’t shed a single tear on the book.
When Nani-Jay let us know about Bob, I shed more than a single tear. Fiction is fiction…realty, though sometimes surreal, is reality.
Bob was notorious for not smiling, for having that fierce look. I sometimes think it was because he grew up as a white guy from Arkansas with a bunch of Hawaiians – a haolie in Hawaiian slang. Here’s a pic taken by Audrey from when he and I and Audrey were hiking in 2003.
Here’s a picture taken nine seconds later. Notice Bob’s expression. This is the same man who cried reading a book. A wonderful complicated human being.
Bob was fierce in his own way. He earned a black belt in Karate, training at a school within walking distance of his house. When my son wanted to take Karate, Bob was, as always, gracious enough to interview the instructor. Bob had advised us to find a school close enough to our home to where there would be few excuses for attendance. When he met our future instructor, Bob shook his hand while putting his other hand on top of our instructors. Bob learned all of the ins and outs of any subject, and knew that they was a handshake that showed knowledge and respect within the realm of Karate instructors. He was like that in many things, always researching and thinking.
Butt-fish, the Koko Head death hike and Chihuahuas
In spite of the outward warrior demeanor, Bob always looked for humor in everything. On one of our long ago trips to Oahu, he took, my wife, my son and I snorkeling to a place on the North Shore he named Shark’s Cove. We’re still not sure if that was the name or if he was just trying to pull Audrey’s chain (there was a lot of mutual chain-pulling between those two). Bob even took his life into his own hands by threatening to push Audrey in when she got a bit intimidated about jumping in.
We finally got in, and were rewarded with a closeup swim with a sea turtle. Almost every time Bob and I snorkeled together in Hawaii we encountered turtles. Bob took it as a sign of good luck. I just assumed they were hungry for old white guys.
As Bob, my son Josh and I were swimming around the turtle, other snorkelers swam in for a look – including one young lady wearing a thong. Bob and I both looked at Josh (after, of course, observing the young mermaid). Josh, who was 10 or so years old, blew all of the water out of his snorkel.
When we surfaced later, Bob asked Josh how enjoyed seeing the elusive “butt-fish.” Josh again blew out all of his air.
Bob, Audrey and I were hiking around the southeast side of Oahu. Nani-Jay had wisely decided to stay home. We came to the last hike to the day – climbing the former train track hill in Oahu called the Koko Head Hike. It’s a former railway trail consisting of about a thousand “steps” (made of railway ties) and about a mile mostly up. Audrey took one look at it and said “Nope. I’ll see you in the car.” Bob and I started up. I’d been training to run some half-marathons, Bob had not, and after a while, he told me not to wait on him. I hiked up the trail, got to the top and walked around. I looked over the edge, and still no Bob. I texted Audrey who said Bob was not back at the car.
So I headed back down. Eventually I found Bob, who showed me a universal greeting when I lied and told him he was almost there.
He eventually made it to the top, and we both made it back down. I drove while he passed out in the passenger seat, making Audrey worried enough to suggest we stop for some Gatorade. He eventually called Nani and said “Nani, Larry hurt me.”
I’ve told the story of the dead chihuahuas so many times that Audrey gives me “the look” every time I start to tell it. I’m going to write up a longer version – but here’s the summary.
Bob’s mom and dad (also named Bob, code name “Big Bob”) befriended Tom, the owner of a barbershop and a place on Ewa Beach. Tom became ohana, part of their family. I’ve never ask my friend Bob about whether this was an influence in him extending his own family but it certainly seems so. Tom became Uncle Tom, and Tom, Bob’s parents and all of Bob’s family became Tom’s extended family. For reasons I won’t go into here, Tom became something of a recluse, staying mostly in his house on Ewa Beach. When he passed away, the house passed to Big Bob, and he and Bob set about rejuvenating and updating it.
When I came to Oahu, I sometimes helped with the updating. Bob asked me to help him go get a cement mixer from the naval base (big Bob is ex-navy, a radio signal operator) and to haul away some trash to the dump. When we got back, big Bob asked if we could also take. away those heavy clay pots. Bob stopped in his tracks, looked at his dad and incredulously asked him if he was sure.
I walked over to one of these large, 12 to 18 inch diameter clay pots, and saw that they were full of cement. I almost hurt myself lifting one up and putting it into the back of Bob’s truck. “Why would put cement in a planting pot?” I asked to no one in particular. “To bury chihuahuas.” was the response.
Uncle Tom was a dog lover and fond of Chihuahuas. But he did not like to part with them. When the dogs passed away, he put each of them in a clay planter and buried them with cement. There were a LOT of clay pots, so I know Uncle Tom must have been a real dog lover.
“Are you SURE you want us to take these to the dump?” Little Bob, who is not little, asked Big Bob?
“Well, you could put them on your surfboard and make a reef.” Bob did not like this idea.
There is some rule about the number of trips that could be made to the dump, so we decided to tackle this job in the morning. When we returned, big Bob was ready for us.
“I had a dream that we took the pots away and the chihuahuas were haunting the house. Put them back!”
I’m pretty sure they are still there.
An Accomplished Career
Though family was always Bob’s number one, he had a distinguished career at Tandem Computers, Compaq Computers and Cisco. He worked for me for a while at Compaq, and rose up to an. executive position at Cisco. We talked about his career many times; he was consistently unwilling to do anything that he considered dishonorable and disrespectful. This limited his advancement potential in the eyes of the. higher-ups, but always advanced him in my eyes.
After his “first retirement” he and Nani-Jay created their own business doing native Hawaiian art work called Ku’u Creations. There are native Hawaiian petroglyphs all over the islands, and Bob designed several of these, using his engineering background, and had them cut and carved out in several different types of wood and other materials.
One day he took me down to Techshop, a place in San Jose that he had invested in, and where the creations of Ku’u Creations were created (say that five times fast). Instead of petroglyphs, he had designed Green Bay Packers pieces for me and my family (including a Clay Matthews especially for Audrey). The video below shows a little of this process.
Bob and Nani-Jay put Ku’u Creations to the side recently, and were embarking on second retirement. After an ankle injury, Bob took up bike riding, mentored by ohana Steve. It didn’t help his step count (!) but he was getting back into great shape.
Quietly Competitive, Quietly Empathetic
I met Bob in June 1997 when Compaq Computer Corporation acquired Tandem Computers. Sadly, that means I only knew him for a third of his life.
I made several trips to San Jose to work on the integration of the two companies, and Bob was running the team that would eventually be merged into my team. Bob made a lot of trips to Houston, and I even half-heartedly tried to convince him to move to Houston (I’m glad that didn’t happen). During one of my trips to San Jose, Bob had arranged a team building exercise with he, me and his entire San Jose-based team… a paintball contest inside a warehouse. Everything was going swimmingly (bruises and all) until Bob told me that last game was he and I versus everyone else. We ended up behind a shed, doing our best Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid impression (we argued briefly about which of us was Butch). When we burst out from behind the shed, we took a few with us as we were spattered with multiple colors of paint.
Paintball, karate…these are just a few of the examples of Bob’s quietly competitive side. He and Audrey had a billiards competition going on for a while, that ended with a pool tournament at our house (after she had beaten him several times). We trash talked him at shuffleboard and he beat us unmercilessly, always with a laugh and a smile. He, Nani-Jay and the entire clan were San Jose Sharks fans, and had season tickets since the Sharks began playing. When the AHL Houston Aeros moved out of Houston, he got me hooked by inviting me to several games. My “Jumbo” Joe Thornton jersey is still worn during every game. One season, when the Sharks didn’t finish so well, Bob talked to me about cancelling his season tickets and mentioned it to his Sharks’ season ticket representative. He called me later that day, saying that Doug Wilson, the GM of the Sharks, had called him and talked through Bob’s issues. I blamed and credited Bob for every personnel move the Sharks made that off-season. I wish they would have hoisted the cup during his lifetime, and it will still be a special memory with him when they do.
A few years ago he got a Fitbit, got everyone around him to get one, and he, my wife and my daughter Sara had weekly texting discussions about who was getting the most steps. I accused him of putting the device on his dog Enzo to get more steps. I’ve had some frank conversations with Enzo (we are running buddies) and he has confirmed my suspicions.
Bob’s empathy always had him asking about someone if their step count wasn’t near their average. He texted my daughter. Sara about it when she was sick or hurt her foot (while also casually mentioning how many more steps he had than she!). He was also texting with her about how to pick out a bike if she wanted to take up riding.
His biggest accomplishment and joy was his family, and he reveled in acknowledging those times. He knew to cherish those events in word and in deed. I was honored to be copied on the following note from Bob acknowledging his 41st anniversary with Nani-Jay July 24, 2017. The text tells a bit about the man and his path.
I wanted to send a quick note to acknowledge a special day for Nani and I, it is our 41st anniversary (This November will be 45 years since Nani asked me to “go steady”) of the day we were married (my two sisters Kathy and Maria, my dad and Steve were there that day – as I have come to better understand, Kasey and Kirstan were actually there as well but they were just eggs at the time). It is another in a long line of days that bring much more joy than anything else but an anniversary always reminds me of how blessed I have been in my live. Two amazing daughters who have become woman I am proud to know, three wonderful grandchildren and 2 sons-in-law who I trust/respect and most importantly love and care for our daughters as well as the friendship of many special people like you all. I believe you all know but we have known each other since we were in early elementary school, grew up living close by each other and got married when we were 19 (It amazes me that we were just 11 years older than our oldest granddaughter Thalia). I came to California right out of High School to find a place to live, transportation and a job (successful on all accounts including a job making $2.25 an hour and a car for which we paid $125.00 and that lasted for 5 years (John, $25 cost a year for a car minus depreciation is a pretty could ROI is it not)) so that Nani could join me. To my great relief so actually came over leaving her family but trusting all would work out. I am happy to say it has worked out great, I can imagine life with no one else and just wanted to thank her publicly in front of just a few of our closest family and friends for taking that flight all those years ago.
The weddings of Kasey and Kirsten were where the ohana came together and Bob wallowed in their mutual love and admiration. I know from our conversations that he constantly thought about them, worried about them and tried to coach and counsel them to his best. As all parents know, even when your kids are adults, even when your kids are older, they are always your kids. On the days of the big events, my favorite part was Bob’s speeches which were direct and heartfelt. The photo below shows one such occasion, with the family in various stages of enjoyment.
One of his other favorite accomplishments was his beard. We went to get shaves together on the day of one of the weddings. He was wallowing in enjoyment here as well.
Bob and I also wallowed in books, keeping the important ones, sharing all of them. Bob and I have the same taste in books. We are some of the only people I know that have The History of Civilization series by Will and Ariel Durant. And we’ve both read it. And talked about it. I do like eBooks for traveling, but a physical book, especially one shared amongst friends, is something special. When you open the book you can smell the memories.
I did give him back his copy of The Notebook though. We didn’t agree on everything. And that was great.
A Few Final Thoughts
On a trip to NYC to see The Producers on Broadway, Bob, Nani-Jay, Audrey, Josh and I were in a deli eating and bantering as usual. Out of nowhere Nani-Jay asked Bob: “Bob, why do you like Larry?”
I don’t remember the answer, or maybe I just forcibly forgot it. We shouldn’t question our friendships, why we love and respect those we love and respect. We just do.
Bob’s ohana have breathed the same air he breathed, as I did. In spite of his tragic demise, he will live on as we all share that same air, passed from one member of our ohana to the next. I will remember him with each breath I take as I hike through life.