A Tribute to My Best Friend
Hello. My name is Mark Schwandt.
For the last 9 years I have been Bob’s Webmaster and he has been my best friend. But my bond with him has been for much longer than those last nine years.
There are many words that can be used to describe Bob; humorous, caring, devoted, tenacious, giving, but it was his driving spirit that was most evident when you knew him.
Like many others, I grew up in the early sixties, before the advent of video games. When we would go outside to play with our friends it would consist of either riding bikes, building tree houses and forts or reenacting our stories based on the TV shows we would watch. We would play Cowboy and Indians, our imaginations sparked by shows like Bonanza or The Rifleman, or maybe we would be fighting soldiers driven by shows like Combat or The Rat Patrol. But my favorite times were spent playing out space stories, fueled by shows like Lost in Space.
We would spend hours battling monsters from all over the galaxy. My friends would choose to play either Professor Robinson or Major West, but I wanted to be the Robot.
I was heartbroken when they cancelled the series, but the bond I felt to Bob would draw me back some 30-plus years later.
Fast forward to the year 2000. While searching for robot parts for a proposal my company was working on, I stumbled upon a website devoted to building your own replica of the original TV series Lost in Space robot. It was on that site I learned there was going to be a convention in Cleveland where they would be meeting and in attendance would also be the man responsible for bringing that robot to life, Mr. Bob May. Unfortunately the show was going to be in 2 weeks and trying to afford flying out and room and food was completely out of the question. But I was determined to go, and found out there were others driving out from New Jersey, so I hitched a ride with them grabbed my clothes and a sleeping bag, and figured maybe I could bum a spot on the floor in someone’s room.
I told my wife, and she was skeptical at first, but now in hindsight thanks me for sticking to my guns and going. Otherwise we would have never met him and his fantastic family.
That Saturday morning one of the builders invited me to meet Bob during breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I was both excited and a bit awestruck. But the moment we were introduced, he invited me to sit with him, and began chatting with me like we had been pals for years. This manner I would learn was just the way Bob was. He was never too tired or preoccupied for one of his fans. That weekend endeared him to me forever. He introduced me to his wife, Judy, and on Sunday night after the convention had ended he invited several of us to go out to dinner with them. I thought I was dreaming. That this man, whom I had just met a day earlier, would invite me along to spend some time with him. During dinner he handed me a slip of paper with his home phone number on it, he told me to call him anytime, and we could talk some more. The little boy in me was overwhelmed. I knew I was dreaming.
I got home, and told my wife about my experience. She could see my excitement, and told me she was glad I had had a good time.
A few weeks later, I timidly picked up the phone and called him, not knowing what to expect. He answered it, and we talked for about an hour, we laughed, he told me a few jokes, and when it was just about over, he told me to call back anytime. I was still dumbfounded by the kindness he was showing me. My wife could see the change in me, and we found out that Bob and Judy would be at another convention in a few weeks, this time only about 2 hours away from where we live.
We went, and I introduced him to my wife, Wanda, and they instantly bonded. His charm and personality were intoxicating - she was hooked. Later that evening he invited us to have dinner with him and Judy. We sat and talked and found out how much we as couples had in common.
Over the next few weeks we would call each other, and I offered to help Bob in any way I could. He asked me to help him to update his website, and I eagerly agreed.
We caught up together with him in Cleveland again the next year, this time my wife came along. We hopped in the minivan and drove the 8 hours west; just to be together with him and Judy again. That weekend would turn out to be one of the most difficult of their lives. It was on that weekend that daughter, Deborah called and told them that their grandson, Devin, had been diagnosed with cancer. We tried to console them as best we could, and I think this is what cemented our friendship forever. I promised him on that weekend that I would never leave him, and that they could always count on us for whatever.
Over the years, our families have grown together too. My daughter especially bonded with him, and asked that I read this short note she wrote for him:
Bob was the best. He taught me many valuable lessons. He taught me to be myself and don't worry what people think.
He told me that that day is the day I prove how better of a drinker I was than my dad.
I will never let anyone forget what greatness this man has done for others, his warmth, his kindness, his generosity, his spirit, but most of all his love for everyone. What I will miss most is being able to call him up, and tell each other jokes just for no reason at all other than to hear the sound of each other’s voice
Henry James wrote:
Bob, I will never forget you, and when I meet you again in the future, the first round is on me.
We will always love you.
January 24th, 2009