by Edie Pattou Emery
My friendship with Robert began with a phone call in 9th grade. We were both in Latin class and one night he called to ask about homework. But he was a little nervous and when he said “This is Bobby” his voice cracked and to me it sounded like he said “This is Barley.” I said “Barley who?” Which he of course found hysterically funny and after mocking me for weeks afterwards it became a running joke between us. Thirty years later he would still sign his emails, “Love, Barley.”
Robert had a wicked sense of humor which occasionally veered over into the cruel, but underneath his heart was soft and generous and he was a staunch friend, loyal to a fault. I have many happy memories of playing board games up in his bedroom in the high rise he lived in with his mother and older sister Judy (Racko, Stratego, and Masterpiece being particular favorites).
When it came time to apply to college Robert noted that our extracurriculars were a bit skimpy (mine especially) so he invented The Bicycle Club, dubbing himself and Kate Markin President and Vice President respectively. I was “The Member,” despite the fact that I didn’t own a bicycle.
We wound up going to the same cluster of colleges in Claremont, California, and my first boyfriend was one of Robert’s best friends and his first girlfriend was one of my best friends. During college Robert would host parties, particularly memorable were his Jeopardy parties, as well as cocktail parties for which we were required to dress up, Gatsby style. I took an unforgettable driving trip with Robert and his then-girlfriend Sydney up to Carmel, CA., and senior year he and I were even roommates in an off-campus apartment. I had my wisdom teeth removed that semester and he made me vanilla milkshakes.
After college, in the days before email and Facebook, we somehow managed to keep in close contact even as graduate school and jobs landed us in widely different parts of the country. He got a degree in marketing from Medill and over the years worked for a diverse array of companies from Max Factor and Alberto Culver to DAP (a company that makes caulks and sealants) and a tobacco company in Richmond, Virginia. I think Robert tops the list when it comes to the sheer number of addresses I wrote in and then crossed out in my address book. But throughout it all we saw each other through the ups and downs of boyfriends/girlfriends, marriages, divorce, child-rearing. He was godfather to my daughter Vita.
Robert was devoted to his three children and the divorce from their mother was devastating. I don’t think he ever got his life back on track after that and ultimately his demons became unmanageable. It was a terrible shock when I received the phone call early one morning in November of 2005 from my father saying that Robert had died.
I once painted Robert a picture of a little schooner sailing on a placid, moonlit sea. For my 50th birthday he made a copy of that picture and sent it to me. Inscribed on the bottom were the words:
When you painted this as a graduation gift, why didn’t you tell me about the rough waters ahead. I love you and happy 50.
I miss Robert more than I can say, but, at the risk of sounding sentimental, I have to misquote a song from “Wicked” and say that in fact he will always be with me, a very large and indelible handprint on my heart.
[You can see more photos of Robert here.]