October 11, 2008

You don't take nothin with you, but your soul...

Robert Mueller 1936-2008

I met Bob Mueller through Felicia when we first started dating. He was opinionated, sarcastic and sharp witted. I liked him right away. We developed a loose friendship and enjoyed spirited conversation over many a fine evening’s dinner. Bob didn’t have a lot of people he considered friends and I count myself lucky to be counted among those he did. Bob always had theater and show tickets for Felicia and I and they were always in the best of seats. Bob was a good friend to have.

Bob didn’t have a lot of family. (I think his nephew was perhaps the last remaining familial contact he had.) He did have an active social and professional life and was a big part of Dayton, Ohio’s music and theater scene. Bob played a wonderful piano and was always in demand when someone needed a quality backup. His students loved him and so did the many young performers who knew him from, The Muse Machine. Yes, he was an old coot who smoked like a train, but he was a person you just couldn’t help but love and respect.

Bob was never married nor did he ever have any children. (Perhaps this was because his parents and his fiancé were killed in a car crash on a long ago Christmas Eve.) Music and theater was his life and he gave it his best efforts and the best of his time. I don’t think he knew what to do when he wasn’t rehearsing or performing. The arts were his family and every performer he ever met was a child of his. It will be a sad day when the show season begins in Dayton and Bob is not there to greet the new cast members. There will be many moments of reverential silence I’m sure.

Those of us who knew Bob outside of the theater knew he was sick. Felicia and I were there when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a devastating piece of news. Bob underwent radiation and chemo therapy. When he returned home he maintained a carefree and positive front, but I knew from the new ring, the bowls of his favorite candies and the new sound system that something was wrong. He was spending money like there was no tomorrow.

Felicia and I were just days away last week from our annual trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee when we got the call that Bob was being admitted to hospice. We were going to cancel our trip, but Bob assured us that it was only a temporary stay until he was strong enough for more chemo therapy and that he’d be fine. We went on our trip and had one of the best times we’ve ever had as a family. Having Micah with us was a wonderful experience and he had a great time.

We were nearly home on Tuesday afternoon when the cell phone beeped and Felicia got the news that Bob wasn’t doing so well after all. We raced home as quickly as we could and Felicia made her way to Bob’s bedside even quicker. After a brief visit she called me and said Bob didn’t look good at all. It was a worrisome homecoming. We went to bed early and around five in the morning Felicia woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. She got up, went downstairs to read a little and turned on the television. At five forty-five in the morning she got the call. She woke me up to keep an eye on Micah and out the door she flew. By eight in the morning, Bob was gone.

We’ve spent the rest of this week cleaning up his affairs and the apartment he lived in during the final months of his life. It has been a difficult experience and a sad time for us. Clearly Bob knew the end was near and he’d already cleaned out anything potentially revealing or embarrassing that would have left tongues wagging after his passing. What was left was window dressing and the few things he needed to enjoy the remaining days he knew were left to him. He was to all intents and purposes already packed and ready to go. It was almost as if he was in a hurry to get somewhere.

Bob filled a lot of lives in our city with music. He was an integral part of many special moments between loved ones as they shared the gift and the joy of live theater. I can’t even begin to imagine how many lives he touched with his music. And even more, he filled our lives with such magic while he carried a sadness in his own heart that few of us knew he’d ever experienced. He was a remarkable man and a kind spirit. He will be missed.

As the holiday season arrives and I embrace the warmth, celebration and joy of family in my home this year, it is my hope that Bob will enjoy the best Christmas he never knew with his mom, dad and the woman to whom he was to be wed. I hope it will be filled with love, reunion, celebration and that he’ll be happier than he ever imagined possible. He deserves it.

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