One of my oldest friends in California died tonight. I met Bob White in or around 1981 when I returned here from graduate school. He owned a house in La Honda and our mutual friend Elena lived in the neighborhood. We used his house as a venue for large potlucks and general get-togethers. After Elena died, he was part of the semi-monthly breakfast group that’s been meeting for 14 years. He was very private, and reserved, even after all this time I’m not sure any of us knew him well. He was into printing and photography, but I knew him for over 5 years before I found out he spent a few years working with Ansel Adams. He never mentioned it. A lot of his energy went into his house, which was constantly under renovation and was never ever finished. I think the kitchen was gutted to the walls and replaced at least three times, maybe more. He carried on a constant battle, especially in the early years, against building inspectors, gophers, and the Cuesta-La Honda Guild, which controls the local water system. He could be single-minded, dogmatic, and he never changed his mind.
I know Bob loved his dog Toyon, his former father-in-law, and our mutual friend Elena. Other than that, he was, as I have said, a very private guy. I know he was a friend, because he kept showing up at all those breakfasts, where he would talk, if prodded, about his recent trips out of state and his current projects. He was always going to move to Colorado; he never did. Elena once did his horoscope: Sun in Leo and everything else in Taurus. He wasn’t an easy man to move.
Characteristically, he dropped the news he’d been diagnosed with kidney cancer into a breakfast conversation last fall. He had surgery to remove the kidney. Stubbornly and proudly he drove himself to the doctors five days after they let him out of the hospital. He was back inside in February and March. The cancer had spread to his brain. They put him on hospice in April, with an estimate of three months. He fought the restrictions, he fought the diagnosis, he hated not being able to drive his car. In this last month, he became bedridden and silent. I’m glad I visited yesterday. I think he knew me. I knew it was the last time.
I’ll miss him. He was, as another easier friend said tonight, always there.