Good Enough, Bob…
My closest friend growing up was Bob Thompson. He and I went to Sutherland Elementary School on the south side of Chicago together. In fact, we were locker partners. We met in the fourth grade and were paired up together – alphabetical order, Thompson and Toussaint. The first year or so, we had our different friends, as Bob lived about 1-1/2 miles from our home and that was enough that we ran in different circles. But our folks went to the same church, Trinity United Methodist Church, and Bob was in my Sunday School class. So I saw him 6 days a week.
Bob was a middle child – two older brothers and two younger sisters. But about the time we met, Bob’s family went through a crisis. His Dad died on Christmas Eve when Bob was 10 – that was in 1962. It was the year that Bob’s father, from his hospital bed, wanted to make sure that Bob got his Strombecker cars and track for Christmas. My, how Bob loved that gift, the last one he received from his Dad.
Pretty much from then on, we were inseparable. I didn’t know Bob’s father, but Bob kind of latched onto my Dad as a second role model as we grew closer as friends. I remember when we graduated from grammar school, and all the things we did together as high school classmates. We would fish together at Maple Lake out on 95th Street. Or across the road at Bullfrog Lake. We shot our pellet guns together and even went on vacation together to the Upper Penisula of Michigan in 1971. Bob’s family had gone there for years and I was invited once. We had a great time; fishing and swimming and riding our motorbikes through the woods. We went to Engadine and Naubinway and several other small cities in the Upper Penisula.
We were always together. Bob went to a local community college and I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle as a commuter. So even in college we spent a ton of time together, usually going on double dates to Gulliver’s in the northern suburbs or Pizzeria Duo’s downtown. Janet knew Bob as well, as she went to the same church and the same grammar school as we did.
Bob and I built things together and were always working on small projects around his house. Bob’s mother, Audrey (although I usually called her mom), would ask us to do something or help out in some way. Of course, Bob would try to do as little as possible, although he really was a pretty good guy, and we coined the phrase, “Good enough.” No matter what we worked on, it wasn’t done till one of us uttered those now famous words – we used that phrase hundreds of times throughout our childhood years.
I could write for days about Bob and our friendship. Andrew was born on Bob’s birthday, July 13th, and our first dog, Bobby, was named after my best friend. He watched all our kids grow up and they all called him Uncle Bob. He worked for most of his career in Human Resources, first at Upjohn in Kalamazoo, where his Dad had worked; and later at the Borgess Medical Center, also in Kalamazoo. He lived on a lake with his family and we loved to go up there and spend time on the water.
When I thought that my business was going to fail, back in 1984, it was Bob who went out and secured $15,000 for Janet and me – no strings attached, and not a loan – a gift. I have never known such generosity from someone who wasn’t a blood relative. He said that he believed in me and that I deserved a chance at success. Typical Bob…
It was that gift that ultimately launched our success. I could never repay Bob for all that he did for me. But if you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll notice that all my comments about Bob are in the past tense. That’s because Bob died – 10 years ago today. That’s right, after beating lymphoma and all kinds of adversity, Bob had a stroke after Christmas and before New Year’s Day in 2002. I got the call from his wife.
Bob was rushed to the hospital and when they got him stabilized, he asked his wife to call me. We spoke – I could barely understand his slurred speech. He told me it was pretty bad, but that he was determined to make it. I was ready to jump in the car and drive to Kalamazoo to be by his side – just like I had done when he fought the cancer years earlier. I was the one who walked him around the floor after surgery – with his Chicago marathon number pinned on the back of his robe. He asked me to wait a day to come this time and I agreed. Unfortunately, that night his brain swelled. By the time I got the call, he was in a coma and never regained consciousness. I wouldn’t have arrived in time.
I did Bob’s eulogy – one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But I wouldn’t have missed that for anything. Because, outside of God, I knew him better than anybody. I just never dreamt that one of us would die – I never even considered it. Then, suddenly, he was gone. Sure, when we were kids, both of us knew somewhere deep down inside us that some day, far, far in the future, one of us would survive the other. Neither one of us ever mentioned it.
The verse for tonight is from Psalms 139:16, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” My encouragement this evening is that I had a once in a lifetime friend and I hope the same for you. My prayer is that God will bless you with a Bob in your life, just as He blessed me, even if it was only for a season. After all, Bob was taken much too early in my opinion, but that’s God call and not mine. I loved him then, and now – and still miss him terribly a decade later. So tonight, ten years after Bob’s death, I leave you with the same words I used to close Bob’s eulogy – “Good enough, Bob, good enough…”
Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…