One of my favorite characteristics about Bob was he chose words carefully and remained soft-spoken (almost) all of the time. I don’t think he did it to make a statement, but to me it said “If you kids quiet down, you might just learn a thing or two,” and my teammates and I were happy to oblige. If Bob was talking, we knew he had something important to say. It was a perfect example for me that speaking loudly wouldn’t make anyone listen to you, most likely the opposite.
In fact, I did hear him yell just one time. After a Saturday morning practice at University Lake, he was ready to leave the boathouse and speed off to his next commitment, I think it was either swim team practice or maybe a music rehearsal. He jogged up to the small gravel parking lot that we used only to find that his car had been parked-in by careless rowers. When he arrived back down at the boathouse a few moments later, he made it very clear how he felt about us making him late! The driver was still out rowing, so several of us ran back up the path on Bob’s heels, lifted and moved the offending car out of the way, and smiled sheepishly as he drove off.
I’ve tried to integrate Bob’s manner of speaking in groups into my own bag of tricks, but it isn’t easy. I fondly recall sitting around talking to Bob with a large group of fellow rowers, he was the center of conversation. I reflected later that on several occasions during that talk, Bob made eye contact and slipped a reference (maybe just a particularly chosen word) into the conversation that he knew only he and I would appreciate, but that would go unnoticed to everyone else and not interrupt the flow. How incredible that he could keep several people engaged in conversation simultaneously, and still make each one believe that he was giving you his full attention.
Bob seemed to naturally balance his demanding professional life with time for additional mentorship, hobbies, and relaxation. There must be libraries full of books written about prioritization and time-management, but he simplified it for us one night with a simple piece of advice. It was during the week of final exams at the end of a semester and we were sitting at Tyler’s Taproom, mid-way through dinner. A teammate of mine asked Bob if he ever thought it was ok to go out and drink at a bar on the night before exams. With a straight face, Bob thoughtfully replied “Well, sometimes you have to.”
The last story that comes to mind centers around a memorable lapse in judgement. This lesson on discipline and respect was delivered in typical Bob style. He was nurturing in such a way that he could deliver harsh criticism but you’d sooner thank him than become defensive. This Saturday morning was overcast, with light rain, and we’d met at the boathouse for an early morning practice, after which the rowers would typically go for breakfast. I was out in a shell rowing lengths up and down the main leg of U Lake, with Bob motoring alongside in his coaching launch. Basic enough, our task was to focus on technique, implement the personalized tips Bob was giving, and row together, efficiently until he said otherwise. Nearing the end of the practice, we approached one end of the course, and slowed to make a U-turn and go back the other way. A perfect break in the action for us to tell a joke or two and discuss what we wanted for breakfast! Or so we thought. It was at this same time that Bob pulled up beside our boat and began to explain what he had liked about the last leg of rowing and what we should improve on for the next one. Our coxswain, realizing the blunder we were making, got us quiet just as he gave up trying to talk through our horse-play. We sat silently for several seconds as he slowly circled to the other side of our shell. Gently, he clarified “I didn’t come down here this morning to listen to the birds and watch the rain fall.” Disappointing Bob, ignoring his coaching and wasting his time, wasn’t ever something we wanted to do but after that we certainly worked hard not to repeat it. Bob enhanced our strengths, corrected our weaknesses, always gave respect, and demanded it in return.
I consider myself lucky that Bob once shared with me a few of the principles he personally maintained: “be thankful for all that God has given me, use these gifts to the best of my ability, and don't worry what other people think.”
I hope you enjoyed these stories and take his words onboard however they work best for you. If we can apply his example to our own lives, the world will be better for it.