Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's in a name? Everything that's important!

When I was growing up in Columbus, I knew a kid named Robert – Robert Schwartz. His name seemed a bit odd for someone so young. Yet it seemed to fit.

Robert was quiet-spoken, reserved and, it seemed at the time, always serious. And he was smart – very smart. Robert was also a year or two older than I was, at an age when kids spent most of their time with youngsters of their own age. So Robert and I knew one another, but we were mostly in the background of each other’s lives.

Flash forward several decades. After school, the army, getting married and moving around to further my career, the lovely Miss Wendy and I landed in the Land of Cotton. Turns out Robert had been living in the area for years and was a member of the synagogue we joined.

But something had changed. Robert was now Bob. He remained quiet-spoken, reserved and, it seemed, still somewhat serious. Did I mention he was smart as a whip? Why, I think I did. And he held onto his smarts as an adult.

Bob also seemed happy and friendly, at times even jolly. Bob was – how should I put it – comfortable with his life and who he had become. I’m certain a major reason for his happiness was his wife Paula and their two sons, Marshall and Elliott.

I bring up all of this now because I attended Bob’s funeral on Tuesday. There was a huge crowd – family, friends and colleagues – who huddled together, ignoring the hot and humid weather, focusing instead on the moving eulogies offered by friends and family.

It turns out Bob had yet another name that his longtime friend, David Witt, shared with those present. When both were boys, growing up in Columbus, they called each other by their first initials – David was D, Robert was R. But it became clear moments later, when Marshall and Elliott spoke, that perhaps the most important name Bob ever had was “Dad”.

Both spoke fondly of a man I never got to know, a loving, kind and generous soul. Bob apparently had a rule that one of his sons detailed, explaining that when he came home from work he would spend 15 minutes with each child doing whatever they wanted.

Marshall and Elliott often pooled their time together, and father and sons would wrestle and play football, the games of childhood that bring generations together. The Robert I knew from Columbus was the sort of guy who might create such a rule, but it was Bob who had learned the joy of playing with his children.

Bob, like all of us, had changed over the years. He had grown and matured, become a loving husband and father, a “selfless” man who understood the absolute joy to be found in taking care of his family.

He had lived – and outlived – several names in his lifetime. But they were all part of the same person, a man who had played out his life, it would seem, with integrity and love. And that’s important, the living of a “good” life, a point that is always noted in the funeral liturgy of a Jew.

“As a drop of water in the sea, as a grain of sand on the shore are a person's few days in life. The good things in life last for limited days, but a good name endures forever.”

Based on the outpouring of love and respect shown at Tuesday’s funeral, Robert need not worry. Bob is now at rest and his good name endures.

May the Almighty comfort the friends and family of Bob among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

GOOD LIFE, GOOD MAN: Bob Schwartz (photo above) was remembered fondly as a selfless man who cared deeply for his friends and family.


  1. A beautiful piece and real expression of k'vod ha-met, honor to the deceased. I am sorry for your loss, and pray that you find comfort among all those who mourn.

  2. I didn't know Bob all that well; he was a quiet guy, as you point out. But I will miss his occasional appearances at minyan... and I mourn the loss of a good man taken far too young.