Tuesday, September 23, 2008

from Agnes Lord: "He Saved my Life"

Robert was my doctor briefly, then friend forever. My family and I will always remember Robert for his amazing character and grit. We first met 15 years ago in San Francisco – he was substituting for a doctor on vacation and I had a round rash on my chest and arm. He peered at my rash, left the room and returned with a physician’s encyclopedia; pointing to a photo in the tome, he pronounced I had Lyme Disease. You can imagine, I was quite nervous about this stranger doctor using an encyclopedia to make such a serious diagnosis – little did I know that this same doctor would later save me when the Lyme Disease attacked my kidneys and the entire Alta Bates Hospital ER staff couldn’t figure out what to do – this was Robert, immensely honest, intensely intelligent, with zero pretensions! When I asked for a second opinion that first day, he invited me to his home in the evening because his friend Jim Katzel, a Lyme Disease specialist, was visiting from Ukiah – somewhat unconventional and brazen – that’s Robert too – and was I glad I accepted! He later volunteered to work at a food event I managed because he wanted to meet people – he had left full-time medicine and was trying to find how he could make use of his love for food and cooking. The event for the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference, ”Hong Kong on San Francisco Bay,” reproduced the streets of Hong Kong in one of the empty Piers on the Embarcadero – because he was going through cancer treatment at the time, I asked the coordinator not to give him a strenuous job such as food service or clean up – instead Robert was assigned, with one other volunteer, to make rice -- a seemingly quick and easy task, but for all 1,200 guests, it turned out to be daunting!! He had to run from one end of the huge pier to another, to get water and to operate the rice cookers spread throughout. He was exhausted and didn’t have time to meet a single soul -- he never complained and even joked about it years later. After all, he found his role in the food industry – and what a role! – thanks to him, Americans will never again view chocolate as they had before! After he sold Scharffen Berger he told me he wanted to start a foundation to help people advocate in situations of medical need – he felt that his knowledge and persistence had helped him take much better care of himself, and that most people didn’t have that advantage – he would’ve changed the world with that work too. Dear Robert, you’ve pursued life with such gusto and courage in the face of your illness – and made this world such a much better place in so many ways -- we will never ever be down having experienced this with you!

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