A damp, drizzly day has dawned in London, Ontario. I’m glad it’s a damp, drizzly day. The weather reflects my mood. I learned this morning that my long time friend, my best buddy, Bob Rondeau, aka, Robert Rondeau, passed away last night in a Boston hospital. His death was due to a lung disease, of unknown origins, that could not be stopped. He and his wife, Jude, tried valiantly to keep him fit enough to be considered for a lung transplant. He did make it to the transplant list, but his health failed too fast. A size-and-tissue-matching lung could not be found, and Bob’s health could not be maintained. Finally, all that hospital staff could do was to make him comfortable as his striving to breathe slowed and finally ceased.
I wasn’t there to witness his passing. His wife and close family members were there. I had not seen him recently because I knew that if I had unintentionally brought him a respiratory infection from anywhere in my travels (mainly the NYS Thruway), he might have died sooner because I visited. I’m told that his death was peaceful.
I don’t have a vivid recollection of first meeting Bob, but it must have been in 1956 when my family moved from the country into the city of Norwich, Connecticut. My two brothers and I were astounded to learn that just down Chestnut Street from where we lived was a big family that had three boys whose ages parallelled our own. Friendships were formed. But in 1958, Bob and I were placed in the same fifth grade classroom and we’ve been close friends ever since. That’s 59-61 years of boys, to teens, to college room-mates, to young men whose friendship was stronger than the Vietnam rift could tear apart. We married fine women and they too became friends. We travelled together, camped together, rented cottages together, went to festivals together, skied together, made the long journey between Canada and the USA scores of times. All that has passed.
Jude Rondeau, Jake, Dave Jacobik, Bob
My strong memories of Bob were the many times we simply played together, running through the neighbourhood woods, ducking and hiding from imagined enemies, participating in boyish shenanigans, sliding on the nearby hill, making soapbox coasters, etc. As we began growing, Bob turned his attentions to the careful building of detailed model cars. Part of my relationship with him then became standing by, providing idle conversational interchange while he fixed his attentions raptly on nearly impossible, intricacies of detail on his models. We played pool together, we drank beer together, experimented with smoking together, shared the conceptual mysteries of girls together, launched homemade rockets together (and worse). Eventually, as adult life came calling, we moved to New Haven together and roomed together. He went to Paier School of Art. I went to Southern Connecticut State, where another friend, Jeff, was already attending.
Those college years flew by. Each of us met and married wonderful women. As we faced the limited choices imposed by the Vietnam experience, I knew that my ending someone’s life on such a flimsy excuse would eventually cause me to end my own. I went to Canada. Bob told me he thought that going to Canada was a brave thing to do. My feeling was that we all had to do that which we were most comfortable with. Courage was hard to define in that war. I thought that going to jail would have been courageous.
Bob was drafted, took advanced infantry training, was shipped to Vietnam, saw limited but very frightening action (some of which he told me about), then found a position for himself that did not cause him to go on field missions for the remainder of his term of duty. Neither of us judged each other negatively for the choices we made. Through all that, we remained good friends
Bob and Jude have spent most of their adult lives in the progressively-minded town of Brattleboro, Vermont. There, while Jude thrived as a fine artist, Bob developed an interest in building and flying radio-controlled model gliders. Over the years, he fine-tuned his building and flying skills to the point of his participating in national fly-ins and placing or winning some national, regional and state-wide contests. I was with him one day near Wilmington, Vermont when he first broke the 20 minutes aloft barrier that qualified him for some official recognition. I had to sign his witness statement. That day was magnificent. There was a high blue dome of a sky and a curious hawk who Bob said would show him where the updrafting thermals were to be found. In time, the custom of calling the sport “gliding” was changed to “soaring.” But gliding or soaring, the essence of it is peaceful, quiet, possibly contemplative once one has mastered the tricky patterns of remotely controlling the craft, once one understands air currents, especially thermals.
Jude had done her best to keep Bob alive and viable enough to possibly receive a lung transplant, but at a certain point we all must cease our striving. In her last note to me (and others) as she was reporting on Bob’s dramatic and pressing health downturn, she said it better than anything I might write.
“Bob will not recover consciousness. I am so grateful for my day with him yesterday when we talked about bird watching and catching thermals. My lovely boy….may you catch that thermal…I love and thank you for every minute of our journey together.”
A great woman I know (Johnnene Maddison) who, herself, has experienced similar loss, has written, “The memories never fade, but the pain does. I have learned to look back on happy times and count my blessings.”
Deb Clark, Jude, Bob, Jim Clark
I am glad to have known Bob. His permanent departure from my life stings intensely. The ache of his absence will endure for a long time. But the memory of Bob will forever be sweet and peaceful. It will take great courage for those who held him close to go on with life and to find therein new reasons for joy when such a precious life has been snatched from our midst. If we take it slowly, gently remembering the good times with grateful recall, perhaps our eyes may open to a brighter day tomorrow.