Bob. One constant in my life for 30 years. Other people
change, get married, have kids, become workaholics, climb the corporate
ladder, win the brass ring. Bob, he was happy enough the way he
was. There were a lot of times I wondered about that, contrasted
Bob's path in life and mine. It did have a way of making you evaluate the choices you've made.
Stories about Bob. Well, he was quick
witted, and came up with some truly original one-liners. There is
one of his comebacks that I've retold for over twenty years now; at a science
fiction convention, we were at lunch with some relative strangers, and
Bob ordered a hamburger. One of the individuals looked at him and
said, sneering, "it's immoral to eat meat." Bob immediately quipped back,
"hey, buddy, at least my dinner had a chance to get away."
Bob introduced me to Quake II. That doesn't sound that
significant, but it was my first real foray into stand alone computer games
and a long term habit of playing first person shooters. This was
back in the days when I was regularly flying out to DC from California... I would go visit him
a every other month or so when I was out there on business trips. His
place was always full of stacks of games, usually open and with the
pieces spilling out and mixing together, anime posters, three or four
computers precariously perched on rickety furniture or stacks of books.
Always something interesting to look at. Paradise.
One time at RPI, Bob told me he was so ticklish, it hurt. I
responded in the typical college student fashion... I started tickling
him, and he punched me in the nose so hard it bled.
And a inside gaming joke... Bob once ran a expedition using a RPG
rulebook called "Simian Conquest." It was about ten pages long,
with cardboard covers. I don't remember it well, but somewhere
along the line, my ape was named "Mel Garkk, Ape Prostitute," after a
Saturday Night Live spoof running in the late seventies. That
turned into another 30 year long joke, the context completely lost, but
just remembering those times enough to make us both laugh.
Bob introduced me to the TGIF restaurant chain, which I didn't
realize was a chain until much later.
Bob found a book in the Folsom library for a Humanities class about
humor, where it had page after page of dry, serious analysis about the
joke "What time is it?" "Now?" "Yes." That was good
for nearly thirty years of laughs.
Bob liked to tell a story about someone playing a on-line RPG in
Korean from an internet cafe that killed another player who turned out
to be the Korean equivalent of Yakuza (I know because he told it at the
2001 RPI reunion, and I remembered him telling it before). He
would always finish with "and I can just see it, the large, black sedan
pulling up to the internet cafe, the young punks in sunglasses walking
through the door, and one of them asking in a booming voice, "Which one
of you is the WIZARD?"
Bob's memorial to his mother was touching and poignant and spoke of
many small things that make a person a unique individual, and I wished I
had done as good a job remembering what was important when my mother
And another little gaming tidbit... when "All your bases are belong
to us" suddenly hit the mainstream as an example of bad Japanese game
ports and general translation gaffs, I remember thinking "Geez, Bob
Willis told me about that years ago."
And, looking back on it, it's kind of funny, all these disconnected
dots over thirty years that don't make any discernable pattern, and many
more that you know would bubble to the surface if you sat down and
chatted with him, and you think, "that really doesn't sum the guy up."
But, really, what can?
So, my epitaph for Bob. Bob, good friend, avid gamer, funny
guy, ex-King of the SF&F games club at RPI.
I feel like a piece of my life has gone with him.
(Cosmic Wimpout image provided by Jeff Goldsmith)
I don't know if you remember me. I'm a friend of Bob Willis' from
high school. I used to visit Bob and Mark Gaylo once or twice a year up
at RPI (I was, and still am, down here on Long Island). The last time I
saw you was probably at a science fiction convention sometime in the
I just heard yesterday from Mark about Bob. The last time I was in touch
with Bob was about a month ago,
probably just days or a week or so before he died. It had somehow just
never occurred to me that something
like this could happen. I always thought that we'd have more time. I
somehow always imagined that, 20 or
30 years from now, we'd be old guys still talking about science fiction,
I just flashed on something from long ago that you might enjoy. Bob was
recounting something from a gaming session - you had been playing, too,
and were right there as he told what happened - and he described what
happened to "Dave Sitting Duckie." Remembering that, and other
stuff (lots of other stuff), makes me chuckle. He was always saying
stuff that had us laughing; well, you know as well as I do.
Thank you for the stuff on Dickieville.com. It's nice to be able to read
your tribute, and to see pictures of everyone. Ah, I just noticed the
"Sitting Duckie" reference. I somehow didn't realize - or forgot -
that it was an established nickname.
It's somehow very difficult to get used to the idea that Bob is gone.
It's a very strange feeling...as though reality has completely shifted
somehow...and yet the rest of the world is still just going on as it
always has, as though nothing had happened...
I had a difficult time trying to put all of this down in print. I kept
having problems trying to figure out how to logically present my
recollections of Bob. Then I realized that would not be very Bob-like. And
so in my own disjointed fashion I begin….
Bob was always a puzzling person to me. He seemed to be a free spirit that
somehow managed to do so many cool things that I couldn’t do myself. And yet
at the same time he was the unmoving rock of stability that lived in the
same place for many years between moves and even then moved to only a few
miles away from the previous residence. Fortunately, that made him easy to
The most fascinating thing about him was his encyclopedic knowledge of
bizarreness and obscurity. He could quote entire scenes of such diverse
material as ‘Flesh Gordon’ and ‘Cerebus the Aardvark’ without even breaking
a sweat. If you asked him the contents of ‘Space Gamer’ issue #6 he could
probably recite the table of contents. When listening to him he could
trigger memories that I hadn’t thought of in years. I always wondered if
those thoughts continuously bounced around in his brain.
His keen memory ability for remembering things in such an orderly fashion
was in contradiction to near total lack of general housekeeping and
organization skills. His mountainous towers of gaming material made it nigh
near impossible to navigate through his apartment without worrying about
spilling over one of the precarious piles of books. I won’t even mention his
apartment’s bathroom. Those of you who have been there know what I mean. I
should have seen it coming from the time we were roommates in college, but
he still managed to surprise me.
The guy liked to eat. This is probably an understatement. When I go back to
America on trips I’m always surprised at the portion sizes. And whenever Bob
and I went out to dinner the quantity of victuals did not hinder his gusto
for eating. After his death this subject was the central theme during the
stage of grief when I felt anger at Bob. I’m sure that his eating habits
contributed to his early death, but man, he enjoyed it while he could.
And speaking of the five stages of grief, and hopefully without sounding
like an episode from ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Robot Chicken’, this is how it went
- Denial – It couldn’t be Bob! He was supposed to live on forever spreading
joy and cheer.
- Anger – Why didn’t he take better care of himself? That really pisses me
- Bargaining – I don’t think that I went through this one. I mean, what can I
bargain with? I’ve got nothing, and that really pisses me off. Whoops, still
a little of the anger stage showing.
- Depression – I was supposed to go back to DC in a few months for some work
related meetings, but why bother to now? Hanging out with Bob was my only
incentive to go. I’ll probably feel the full effect it when I do go back to
the area. Hmm, depression and a little residual anger. What a lovely
combination to look forward to.
- Acceptance – I think that I am in this stage, although if I had been able to
go to the RPI Bob Memorial Get-Together last weekend, it would have helped.
Things that I regret not doing while he was still around:
We always planned to have him come out to Japan for a visit. He was really
excited with the possibility of being here for the World Science Fiction
Convention this year, but it was not to be.
Visiting more often with Bob and his mom in Tampa when we lived in Florida.
She was a great old gal and with Bob vacationing there it was even more fun.
Both of his parents were great people. They even let me stay with them years
ago when I had to occasionally visit the University of South Florida for my
Writing up that tontine where the last person alive gets all of the other’s
gaming stuff. I probably would have tried to set up a reference section at
the RPI library with all of his stuff catalogued in it. I think that his
massive and historical collection would have been appreciated there.
Things that I will miss the most:
Gaming weekends whenever I had to go to DC for business. For the last ten
years this mostly consisted of computer and console games (two years ago it
was Halo on his ultra-huge widescreen from eight feet away). He always
managed to hook me on at least one game every time that I visited. The list
included such classics as ‘Command and Conquer’, ‘Culdcept’, and even
‘Redneck Rampage’. He usually kicked my ass in the high twitch factor games,
but I got him more often in the strategic level ones. I also seemed to do
better than him in ‘ Redneck Rampage’, just don’t ask me why. I don’t know.
I think it’s because he was laughing too much to best use the controller.
Those weekends weren’t always about the games. I also got to meet some of
his local area friends and we would go out to eat. I think that I sometimes
scared them with my stories. That of course, made it even more fun.
Favorite comment from my wife Marie when she saw the pictures of Bob on the
memorial page, “He got better looking as he got older. But he wasn’t that
cute when he was younger.” I think that when Marie first met Bob that she
thought he was weird. Then again, she thinks all of my friends are weird.
But she thinks that Bob was special weird.
Bob’s last written words to me: “Lesson learned: don't ask Bob to land the
As I have said before, fun is the best word to describe Bob. I knew him for
almost three decades and it pains me to know that I will never see him
again. His wit and sense of humor were inspirational. He was truly the
easiest person that I knew to talk with.
I will miss him dearly.
You enter a dark cavernous conference room. There is a long table,
whiteboards, notebooks, and countless piles of dice. The faint smells of dry
erase markers and stale pizza hovers in the dank college office air. The
fluorescent light above you flickers briefly.
You see hidden in the shadows the bright, laughing eyes of Bob. The renowned
King of Games chuckles quietly– leafing through a stack of Dragon magazines.
What do you do?
What do I do indeed?
Bob and I really didn’t plan to dress alike.
Here are some bits and pieces, in no particular order.
Bob introduced me to SCA, and I think was a founding member of the Shire
He and I ran in Mark's world a lot together my senior year, and I
remember all the drawings he'd make, and also the silly counters. I had
a hard time keeping a character alive, and one of Bob's panels had a
beastie going, "When's Alice's character going to show up?"
He was at Rob Whelan and Maureen's wedding; and Kris and Laura's, and
all of us gaming geeks sat together and laughed a lot.
We had a Barbarian Invasion of Washington, DC in 1985 and I saw his
place; it looked like an atomic bomb had hit it!
All the times we "fought" with the stuffy Student Gov types, and how Bob
kept his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek.
Long Live the King!
12 people came to RPI this weekend: Rob Whelan, Rob Hendrie, Kris
Backman, Sherilee Backman, Julia Belyung (age 6), Eric Haines, Shawn
Bilodeau, Rick Shetron, Mark Christensen, Marty Connell, John Croll
(?sp?), and Dave Dickie.
We met at Holmes and Watson, and everyone (almost---you know who you are,
you rebel you) ordered a "3/4ths Missing," roast beef on rye. A toast was
made to King Bob, stickers were distributed. Some of us walked up the
approach and stickerified as they went. We met up at the Student Union and
parked ourselves in a room (thanks, Mr. Whelan!), which by coincidence was
next to the meeting of the current games club at RPI.
We chatted with them, Dave put a large poster of Bob in their games club
locker (which I think confused them, but that's OK), then played games:
Japan won World War II, and most of the rest of us played a boardgame
simulator of a computer first-person shooter, "Frag". We played this
until we somewhat fried. 4 pizzas were ordered from the Rathskellar
(surprisingly good!), and we spent the evening talking and looking at
pictures from RPI days.
We all dispersed around 9 pm, most of us drove home that night. The Backmans
and me (Eric) stayed overnight; they in the beautifully appointed and
affordable Olde Judge Mansion B&B (though in a sketchy
part of Troy), me in the Best Western Rensselaer Inn (aka the old Holiday
Inn), which was kinda run down yet more expensive - bonus. Rob (Bob) Whelan
was going to stay over, but his wife may have broken her
ankle so he also went home. A third option (not found on Expedia) is the
brand new Franklin Square Inn & Suites - no idea what costs run there.
Why mention the lodgings at all? Because we were very psyched about how
pleasant it was to get together again, and we'd like to do it every year
around this time, with the idea of staying overnight so that we could
hang out longer.
Anyway, I'm glad I stayed over: a 3.5 hour drive home in the dark on a sleep
deficit would have been bad. As it was, I called up Mark Gaylo, an RPI
person some of you know, who I hadn't talked to in decades, so that
was pleasant. In the morning I walked around Troy and RPI for about two
hours, planting maybe eighty stickers as I went. I also planted a hitchhiker
letterbox in honor of Bob:
http://home.twcny.rr.com/haines/letterbox/bob.htm. I visited the Backmans at
at the Old Judge Mansion (Sherilee caught a cold, so she wasn't up for
walking around), then drove on home.
A good time, Bob would have enjoyed it,
||Bob, circa 1977, hanging out in the "SF&F Games club corner"
in the Student Union, reading a game manual (of course).
||Bob, circa 1978, Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA)
party; with Risa Stewart, Flint Webb, Mario Tavares, Sandy Stewart, Mark Gaylo,
and others (thanks to Risa Stewart for remembering everyone and
labeling the photo)
|Bob, was, of course, the King of the Fantasy and
Science Fiction Games Club. These photos come from a time
when there was a certain amount of angst on the part of the
student government, as the F &SF crowd inhabited (or infested)
"their" corner of the building, and was exacerbated by the
club's decision to blow off recognition by the executive board
despite having our funding cut (we made more showing movies).
In any case, someone took it upon themselves to make the
relationship between the club and student government clear to
all. On top, you have the game club, reading:
Next is a diagram that shows how the various government arms
related to one another, where someone has hand written in the
club with appropriate tags (rags on the Student Senate, ignores
the Executive Board, sneers at the Class groups).
Finally we have the bulletin board showing the different
organizations with the F&SF games club mysteriously inserted
into the middle.
It didn't last long, but it was pretty funny.
(Thanks to Jeff Goldsmith for sending these)
||Bob, circa 1979, wearing his "Pope Innocent the III" hat... a
common theme for the next year or two, in the Student Government
||Bob, circa 1980, In the Stackwyck apartment on the RPI
campus, with a very young looking Sherilee Host and Risa Stewart.
And what's that Bob is holding?
||Bob, circa 1981, Graduation Day, with Jeff Goldsmith,
Larry Finkel, Brad Johnson, and I.
||Bob, circa 1981, Florida trip to visit me (in Nuke Power
School) and Mario Tavares, with Paul Regan
||Bob, circa 1982, Boskone Science Fiction Convention with
Eric Haines and Chris Keavney in attendance (and possibly
others... I can only name people in the photos), sporting his
||Bob, circa 1982 or 83, party at Rich Shetron's house.
||Bob, circa 1984, a rare shot of the inside of his old condo
in Silver Spring, Maryland, with Mario, Eric, and myself.
Looks like Wizardry on the Apple, but I remember playing M.U.L.E.
on a console.
||Bob circa 1989 at the Wedding of Eric and Cathy Haines
(along with Marty Connell)
||Bit of a gap in photos here... I saw Bob a few times over
the intervening years, but never when I had a camera. This
is the 20 year RPI reunion in 2001 with Marty Connell, Brad
Johnson, and me.
You can see a movie with Bob in it at the reunion
here (144 meg, it may
take some time to download; there's a better one at the 2006
||And another shot from the reunion
||And, 5 years later, the 25th RPI reunion.
You can see a movie of Bob at the reunion
here (44 meg)
(mostly in the middle and end)
||And a shot at Holmes @ Watson... still a great place 30
years later... with Eric Haines, Brad Johnson, and Shawn
||A recent photo of Bob (thanks to Constance McClary for
A note Bob wrote about his mother's death that I
thought was touching...
This is just a quick message to let you know my Mom passed away
around 1pm today, July 3rd, 2007. I apologize for the mass mail but
I wanted to get the news out as soon as possible, and will try to
follow up individually. Feel free to pass along the information to
anyone you think might want to know.
My Mom died from complications due to her cancer. She was a tough
lady and kept going as long as she was able. I was with her at the
hospital when she passed away peacefully. She was 82 years old.
She often remarked that she had a good life, and particularly
enjoyed her time in Florida since moving here with my Dad back in
1983. They went on cruises, made some good friends, and generally
enjoyed life. After my Dad passed away she continued on in the house
she loved so much. As she got older she became less able to get
around, but her friends and neighbors took good care of her.
She loved chocolate ice cream, particularly Triple Chocolate Dove
Bars. She had incredible luck with scratch-off lottery tickets. She
would watch absolutely anything that had Anthony Hopkins in it. She
would always say what was on her mind and could be uncommonly blunt
if someone was trying to take advantage of her; telemarketers never
had a chance with her. In a remarkable about-face of her
long-standing opinion, she said she like my hair long after all. She
smoked all her life, but hadn't had a cigarette since she became
sick and remarked more than once that she was surprised that she
didn't miss them at all. She was a wonderful Mom and I'll miss her.
And a link to
the 2007 Bob Willis Memorial get-together