Saturday, April 30, 2016

Things About A Great Man



I met Pop Bob when I moved into Northport. I was leaving behind a lot of baggage, including a broken marriage and a lot of damaged relationships. Only 7 miles behind, but it was behind me. I was starting a new life in the tiny town, working at the hardware store and figuring out what life was all about, with a fresh-faced new boyfriend sporting a chew in his lip and a herd of tiny girls.

I remember Bob leaning on the counter at Northport Hardware and asking me questions. Not light, fluffy, nice grandpa questions, but hard questions, about where we were headed next, how we were gonna do it, and just life. Bob knew how to cut to the chase in a conversation but still make you feel like you were talking about the weather when the topics were actually life altering. The smile behind his eyes remained through the toughest conversations and the unspoken understanding that he offered. The best thing about Bob, though, was that in the end of every conversation, he had a way. A way to fix the worst problems. Not with tools and books and recommendations, but with a worldview. An outlook on life: nothing was too big to overcome, and there's always a way.

There isn't a kid who has grown up in Northport in the last 20 years that couldn't learn the value of a good rake, a working lawn mower, a happy dog, fishing or family from Bob Long. Cruising around town from the wee hours of the morning in his little blue pickup, Bob was an icon of community spirit and removing everybody's excuse for not being a decent human being.

Bob was born in Red Lodge Montana on November 8th, 1932. In 1951 he graduated from Red Lodge High School, and a year later married the love of his life Connie Babcock. They had five children while Bob worked as a rancher and in the oil industry for the next couple of decades. In 1970, they relocated to Washington State, where they lived in Colville, while he worked at Vaagen Brothers Lumber. Two years later moved his family to Northport and worked for a limestone company, before he returned to Montana to work  for Carbon County.

After a brief time back in Montana, Bob retired in 1995 and he and Connie moved back to Northport, where they have lived for over 20 years, surrounded by their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Beyond a pillar in the community, Bob was a dedicated member of his church wherever he went, and perhaps an even more devoted believer in the power of a good day fishing. After raising his own children, Bob continued to pour into the generations following, taking his grandchildren under his wing and mentoring many local young people in the pathway of community service and hard work that were Bob's mainstay.

Pop Bob and Herc

Delivering meals, maintaining yards and running errands for elderly shut-ins around town were only a handful of the mountains of work that Bob did to care-take his town. In the words of his pastor: "If anyone could earn their way into heaven by good works, it was Bob Long." When he wasn’t serving his neighbors, you could find Bob down by his beloved river with a fishing pole in his hand and his big golden retriever Hercules by his side.

On March 26th, Bob passed away unexpectedly surrounded by his large family and community. More than a father and grandfather, Bob was a friend to generations of people in both Montana and Washington, and they overwhelmed the high school gymnasium in Northport at his memorial on April 23rd in testimony to his great heart.

Men like Pop Bob are few and far between, with that gap ever widening as the generations that understand the importance of moral integrity, honesty and kindness seem to be fading. But Bob diligently passed along these values to the ones that would listen, that would take the time to go down to the river and fish, or drop off dinner for a lonely neighbor. If you had the time for Bob, he had the way for you. Often it was the things that Bob knew he didn't need to say that had the most effect.  A knowing look, with those smiling eyes and it was like Bob was highlighting the path that you already knew. Countless family members, neighbors, church friends have all told me that Bob was one of their closest friends, because that's how Bob lived: making the person he was with the most important one in the world. He could communicate worlds with the shake of his head and the twinkle in his eye.

When I met Bob Long, he reminded me that there are good people in the world. He taught me that being humble and kind were far better than being bitter and frozen. And that bad things are exactly what you make out of them - a chance to learn and grow and be a better person. Obstacles and struggles aren't the end of the world - you just have to find a way around them, and there's always a way.



3 comments:

  1. Oh geez, I didn't know him, but I teared up reading it - great tribute to what appears to be an incredible and all too rare guy.

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    1. He was truly one of the greatest... Big loss for our small town.

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  2. I hadn't seen Bob since and Connie left Red Lodge in '95 (I left in '99), but he was always in my thoughts. He was a unique man and if I pause for just a quiet moment, I can still hear his soft chuckle. Well written insights into a man many of us are better for having known.

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