I was first introduced to Bob as a new Ph.D. student at American University shortly after I arrived in the Fall of 2008. I had been hired by Pam Nadell to work in the Department office for the Jewish Studies program, which meant that I would spend several hours a week sitting just outside of Bob’s office door. Bob greeted me by telling me how happy he was to have me in the department and in the office and asked me to let him know if I ever needed anything. Throughout the following two years, I regularly wondered to myself if he regretted saying that to me. But knowing what I know about Bob, he probably didn’t.
The following several months proved to be a wonderful experience. I got to know Bob quite well, along with Chris Partridge and Jen Bates. Bob was always on the go, but when he had time to stop and check in, he always did—and even when he was on the run, he would always greet us. We had a great chemistry in the office and though I was working for the Jewish Studies program, I was able to pitch in for the history department where I could and working with Bob on office projects was always a delight. It was clear to me that he was a happy man who loved his family and had an amazing joy for life. He often told stories about traveling with his wife or showed pictures of his grandchildren and he made it clear to us that he was genuinely interested in our lives too. When he had the time or for any special occasion, Bob would buy us lunch and visit.
Though I enjoyed working in the office, I really wanted to work as a TA. So one day, I went into Bob’s office and asked him if there was anything I could do to get a job working as a TA. I explained to him how much I loved to teach and he listened. Before I knew it, an opportunity to work with Eileen came up and Bob supported it with his signature even though it meant that Pam would have to find (and train) someone else to work for the Jewish Studies program. Both Bob and Pam were great about it—and I think that had a lot to do with Bob always wanting the best thing for AU students. He knew that getting experience in the classroom would serve me better in the long run.
Over the next year and a half or so, I asked Bob for a lot of things. When I wanted to take a class at Georgetown that was technically being offered at AU, Bob let me do it. When I wanted to TA again, Bob let me do it. When I walked into his office with a group of my peers and asked him to create another 500 level grad seminar, Bob did it. And when I decided to leave the AU History program because I knew it was not a good fit for what I wanted to pursue in my graduate study, Bob put on a big smile and said, “We are sad to lose you, but I understand your decision and I am very happy for you.” When I told him I was sorry that my quitting wouldn’t help the program’s statistics he said, “Yes it will. You will get your MA and move on to another great program and that makes AU look great.” Bob, more often than not, saw the good in everything and even if he was irritated or angry, he rarely showed it outside of closing the door to his office.
When I learned of Bob’s death my heart sank. Even though I am no longer at AU, knowing that Bob was there and still helping my friends and colleagues made me happy. Bob’s presence in this world made it a better place for everyone who crossed paths with him and I am so deeply sorry to hear of his passing. My thoughts are with my friends, colleagues, and mentors at American and, of course, with his family. To borrow a phrase from my AU advisor, Eileen Findlay, “Bob was a good egg.”