By Donald Norton
A good friend to many in Somerville passed away last week after a lengthy illness, and his passing doesn’t go easy for the many people that he has touched over the years.
I knew of Bob from high school, even though I was a senior and he was a junior. Personally and more formally, I met Bob officially through a mutual friend named Brian Donovan who introduced us way back in the early to mid 70’s when he was editor and writing for The Somerville News back then.
When he officially bought the paper my wife Pat went to work for him at the front desk for a short while as his first employee, thereby making our acquaintances more like a friendship.
Bob was very involved in politics back then. He worked for Tom August for Mayor, and once Tom was elected Bob had a job at City Hall.
Our paths would mix over the next couple of years throughout the city, both of us being activists here, though not necessarily on the same side. Those were the days when you could work for a candidate and when the campaign was over there was none of the nasty stuff that goes on today; it was just over until the next time.
I joined the Masons in 1980 and our paths passed each other once again. He was very involved with DeMolay as an advisor and he soon got me involved with it too and got me on the Advisory board. After that we became good friends. The kind of friend you don’t just say, “He’s a friend of mine.” He truly was becoming a close friend.
We often would talk about politics, the city and our businesses. He and I would both give advice to each other, have arguments together and then, two or three days later, we would have coffee and it would be like nothing happened.
His partner back then was John, whom both my wife and I got to know, along with Bob, as one of the nicest guys around.
When six others and I decided to open a real estate company on our own he would help us with the marketing and again we got to be closer in friendship.
He and I often talked about the city, he being from West Somerville and me from East Somerville/Winter Hill, which, in days gone by, were only blocks away from each other but worlds apart. He and I often talked and agreed or disagreed on what the city was doing and who was being elected what they were doing. We were both happy with the turnover in the city, a constant thing that just happens over the years.
One day he called me and asked me to meet him at his favorite coffee shop, that he needed to talk to me. We met and he started talking about the paper, and how he was getting tired and wanted to do something else but didn’t know exactly what. He wanted to retire and hand the reins of the paper over to me, because he trusted me to keep the paper going and make it something to be proud of. He often would tell me before we finalized the deal that he knew I had the same feelings for Somerville as he did and that I was not going anywhere and, like him, would be here until the end.
He loved The Somerville News and what he made of it over the years and told me he wanted me to take it to the next level. It’s been about 10 years now and he often told me that the paper was “ok” to my face, but I know he liked the job we’re doing with the paper. I know deep down he was proud of it when he owned it and was equally proud of his reasons for letting me have the paper to continue with it.
Bob was a special person. A friend to many and many different groups of people that he has known over the years. He was a good friend to me in particular. I will miss him tremendously. His wit, his humor and his advice to me will be missed. I enjoyed having deep conversations with him, especially over this past year in his illness. He and I would talk for hours sometimes.
Even through his illness he would show concern for others. He constantly asked and talked about my wife Pat. He just thought the world of her, especially this past year when she was ill herself.
He was a good man, thoughtful and generous to many. He was all this but, more importantly, he was a man who suffered bravely through his illness with such pain and agony. He has taught me and, hopefully, a lot of others that we have a lot to be thankful for in our lives and there is no obstacle that can’t be conquered if you put your mind to it. When he was told he had only a few weeks to live back in September, we talked about him surviving to Christmas and, sure enough, his 99th life kicked in. Cats might have 9 lives, but Bob had 99.
We often think that the grass is always greener next door, when in fact next door has the same grass, though maybe a different shade. God bless him for his bravery, and I know he would want everyone to know that we should all get along better and be nicer about it. Not be mean or nasty, but have a better understanding of others before we condemn.
God has him now and he’s sitting at a new coffee shop up there reading his paper and sipping his coffee, looking over the city. God bless and keep him. From my family to his family, we thank him for being a part of our lives.
To a good man and good friend, thank you Bob.