Tuesday, October 7, 2008
from Ed Rudolph
photo of Robert and Jamie, 2005. A close examination shows that in his bag Robert is carrying a newly-purchased book called "Seeking the Heart of Wisdom."
Robert had an extraordinary number of friends when he died, a wide variety of interesting people, many of whom loved him. Somehow, as he grew older he became more of a mensch. The scope of his friendships and connections shows what an extraordinary guy he was.
In 1974, Robert and my cousins Judy and George all worked at the then Pacific Medical Center in the Fillmore district in San Francisco. I first met Robert the afternoon he and I, among others, were helping Judy and George move their furniture from an apartment on Clay Street across from Alta Plaza Park into another apartment on top of a small shingled building on Buchanan Street. He and I and others were carrying a large but reasonably light couch up the stairs. Judy had introduced him to me as “Row-bare,” the French pronunciation and, in fact, he wore a beret. Even now, half the time I call him “Row-bare” and the other half “Rah’-bert.” That day we all managed to wedge the couch firmly into the last doorway it had to go through. Beyond that door, Judy and George’s new narrow staircase made a right turn from the direction of the hallway. The couch was not going to make it up those stairs; it would retreat back out of the building and go somewhere else. After it had gotten wedged there and we had all been wrestling with it for a while, Robert said, “I’m sorry, I have to leave. I have to go swimming.”
That was the day I met him. He did so many things in the following years that I can’t remember the exact chronology. After his internship, he entered a psychiatric residency at Yale but didn’t like it; he moved back to the Sunset District of San Francisco and completed a Family Practice residency at SF General. He and I roomed together for a year or more in a flat with fantastic views on Potrero Hill, a neighborhood that was then somehow separated from the rest of the city. To give you an idea of how long ago this was, our rent then was $450 and that flat now rents for $4800. At some point he moved to Manhattan with the thought of becoming an actor - we drove together from SF to NYC hauling a trailer with some of his furniture in it. After a year or more, he returned to California and lived and practice medicine in Ukiah, California. Then he seemed to settle down in San Francisco, although it seems wrong to say that Robert could settle down, and in 1986 he and I and Jamie Putnam (now my wife) together bought a house around the corner from that flat he and I had lived in. He lived in the upstairs flat, we downstairs. He started a medical practice as a family physician in the West Portal area. A couple of years after we’d moved in, he was diagnosed with lymphoma.
His diagnosis began the period you might call “the rest of his life.” He decided to close his practice and, these are my words not his, devote himself to his life. What is unusual is how broad his life became. He lived alone but always sought others. During the next twenty years he was often away traveling, punctuated by periods of dealing with his illness. When he went into the chocolate business his schedule became even more hectic. Amazingly so. I don’t know how he did it. The longer he lived with his illness, the more he accomplished.
I’ve noticed that some people, as they grow older, stop making friends. Getting old leaves them with fewer and fewer of them. But Robert every year seemed to have more and more and more friends. To me, this is a sign of how extremely, outstandingly healthy he was to the day he died.