By Elaine Ikoma Ko
For Northwest Asian Weekly
The world has lost a hero. Bob was larger than life, and so full of life and energy that we cannot fathom that he is gone. As I write these personal reflections, I am still unable to grasp the depth of losing him.
You see Bob was never “Uncle Bob” to those of us who were closer to his age. But he was Uncle Bob to everyone else, even to those he would just meet on the street. “Call me Uncle Bob,” was his constant refrain. As a result, he had thousands of ‘nieces and nephews.’
There will be much written about Uncle Bob’s legacy, his leadership to single-handedly change the direction of an entire neighborhood, and, deservedly so. He, along with Donnie Chin and Ruth Woo, are the legends in my lifetime, all gone in this last year.
There are a few things I am sure of about Uncle Bob.
First, he dearly loved his wife Sharon and was very proud of her. He loved his six children (Danny, Simone, Robin, Tom, John, and Nancy), and the army of grands and great-grands. He lovingly told stories of them over the four decades that I worked alongside with him.
He loved his community and never lost his fire as an activist and advocate. I can never think of a time when Bob wasn’t present at and leading rallies, marches, and even most recently as we protested the hookah lounge across the street where Donnie Chin was murdered. I have many stories and memories dating back to the early 1970s when I first met Bob and as I began working at Inter*Im in 1975. He forever kept me grounded — always thinking of the best interests of the community; a true working class hero.
He loved his Gang of Four comrades, Bernie, Roberto, and Larry. His escapades with them, while making lasting impacts on the communities they led, also left you in stitches. My best memory was when Bob, Larry and Roberto traveled to Washington D.C. to accept the Bridge Builders Award. A bunch of us from Seattle accompanied them and we had the time of our lives. We never laughed so much — imagine combining Bob’s humor, perfect timing, and goofiness, and magnify that ten-fold with Roberto and Larry. Just crazy.
Bob loved his karaoke, Bush Garden, and his young friends who he sang with and mentored along the way.
I know of no other person who has helped develop more successful careers than Bob. I know of no other person who has officiated more weddings or given more eulogies.
Uncle Bob was everyone’s best friend.
Bob had vision like none other. To this day, I can’t figure out where he got his ideas. It seemed as we worked together, off and on at Inter*Im and Interim CDA since the 1970s, that never a week would go by that he didn’t have a half-crazy, new idea. So many seemed far-fetched, and yet so many of them became groundbreaking, lasting programs — like starting a health clinic in a small storefront to becoming one of the largest, fastest growing community health centers in the nation, or single-handedly securing and developing the most amazing community garden spanning an acre overlooking the Seattle skyline.
Whenever he’d call me, I knew he was going to ask me to do something with him. Whether it was to coordinate their wedding (which I was delighted to do), negotiate a plan to build a stadium for the Sonics, put on an exhibit about Bruce Lee and the countless dancing parties as fundraisers, or helping with his first book, ‘Hum Bows Not Hot Dogs,’ and his latest book on the Gang of Four.
I know how much he appreciated my help in publishing his Gang of Four book, and writing his nomination for the Philippine Presidential award in Manila (where he was treated like a rock star, thanks to Eileen Aparis). But it was Bob who gave me the constant encouragement and wisdom when I needed it, laughs whenever we met, and a way of taking on life’s biggest challenges but never, ever too seriously.
He gave me way more than I ever gave him.
Bob was my most enduring friend, confidante, mentor, and supporter. I know there are many others who can affirm this truth in their lives.
My world is changed forever and like so many others, we will walk our paths a little less steady because he is no longer here.
Bob, I will cherish you forever.