Three years ago, I wrote a valedictory piece about the Methow Valley News’ longtime Mazama columnist, Bob Spiwak, on the occasion of his retirement as regular contributor on the Valley Life page (although he continued to contribute in various ways, notably through his “Off the Wall” articles).
Last weekend, while (appropriately, one might say) at the Mazama Store, I learned that Bob had died. Dementia had slowed him down lately but, true to form, Bob was still out and about until near the end. Standing there in the crowded store, a place that he helped make special in a community that he loved, it was hard to imagine that Bob was gone. He lived a fascinating life, and generously shared that personal history, and the wit and wisdom that came with it.
Thinking of what I could say about Bob, I searched out the column I wrote in 2016, and I honestly don’t think I can improve on it. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:
Other than this newspaper’s founder, Harry Marble, I don’t know if anyone else has been associated with the Methow Valley News longer than our Mazama correspondent, Bob Spiwak.
Bob has written community reports, columns and stories for the newspaper for more than 30 years (and submitted more than a few photos). He also created some independent diversions such as the Goat Wall Street Journal and has freelanced for other publications.
Bob has led a varied and interesting life that brought him to the Methow decades ago, before the North Cascades Highway opened. He has seen a lot of things and remembers most of them, although a small detail occasionally eludes him. He and the lovely Ms. Gloria have become fixtures of the West Boesel neighborhood along Highway 20 between Winthrop and Mazama, snugged up against Grizzly Bear Mountain, sharing the space with their domestic and wild menageries. He has an endless supply of animal stories, most of which originated on or near his property, and people stories, most of which originated in the far end of the valley that has been his personal habitat for all these years.
Bob is a natural information-gatherer, either by conversing with friends or eavesdropping on a nearby conversation or boldly asking questions to satisfy his curiosity (and ours). He has frequented the Mazama Store since it was the really old one that was succeeded by the less-old one that was followed by the somewhat-newer one that was replaced by the current one.
He has been, in no small way, a keeper of lore, preserver of memories, celebrant of personalities, guardian of ambience, chronicler of weather — and, for many years now, counter of vehicles passing by on Highway 20 on holiday weekends. Want to know the snowpack status? He’s got that too.
And then there’s SLIME (Society of Lugubrious, Indolent Mazama Entrepreneurs), the ad hoc organization of early-rising coffee drinkers who hobnob and gossip at the Mazama Store most mornings, providing plenty of fodder (credible and otherwise) for Bob’s weekly ponderings and observations.
His reports have always been entertaining, full of wry wit, intricate turns of phrase and pithy (although often tongue-in-cheek) commentary about goings on in the Mazama region — an area that, rather oddly I think, some Methow residents don’t visit all that often. Because he’s an outdoors person who spends a lot of time recreating, he can speak knowledgeably about such activities. He pays attention to the world beyond the valley as well and finds ways to connect things going on elsewhere with our lives here.
If this sounds like a heartfelt tribute to someone who’s about to retire as a community columnist, I have to admit that it is — the second one I’ve had to write in the past few months. Like Sally Gracie, who was until recently our Twisp columnist, Bob has become an institution in the Methow Valley — a cliché, yes, but in each case neither an exaggeration nor false praise.
You will recall of course that Sally died not long ago. Bob and Sally brilliantly defined the Methow through their molecular-level affection for the place. Much of what I know about the valley, I learned from Bob and Sally. I was privileged to know and work with them both.
We’ve asked people to post their thoughts and remembrances about Bob on the Methow Valley News Facebook page. You can also send them directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will print as many as we can next week.