Bob Spiwak would have loved this.
He would have laughed along with the stories told about him, while perhaps correcting the storytellers about details — even if it was at his own expense.
Bob would have reveled in the company of so many friends and admirers, an extended family that he accumulated, nurtured and entertained over many decades in the Methow Valley.
The gathering on a moderate Saturday afternoon at the Mazama Community Club drew dozens of people to celebrate Bob’s life, two-and-a-half years after his death, and reflect — with love and humor — on how he affected so many lives. Speaker after speaker, including Bob’s family members and dearest friends, talked about the many aspects of his personality, and many interests in his life, that somehow came together in one engaging “character,” as one participant put it. With Bob’s children there, it was a perfect way to commemorate Father’s Day.
The memorial last weekend was organized by Bob’s widow, Gloria Spiwak, a longtime force in the community in her own right. Inside the community club were the reminders of a long, accomplished and interesting life: photos, albums, clippings and other mementoes that, taken together, told a story. Outside, we gathered in the Red McComb picnic pavilion to hear heartfelt and funny tributes.
Among other things, Bob was the longtime Mazama columnist for the Methow Valley News, a local legend long before I arrived here 11 years ago. Even after his retirement in 2016, Bob continued to contribute to the newspaper, notably with his “Off the Wall” columns.
I am never comfortable with public speaking, but felt compelled to say a few words on Saturday. In sum, I noted that while Bob was not a trained journalist, he was one of the most natural journalists I have ever met. He had endless curiosity, a universe of interests, and wasn’t afraid to ask anybody anything. Bob observed things with a keen eye, heard things with a discerning ear, and wrote with a distinct voice. I always looked forward to reading his column — I never knew what he might come up with, but was confident it would be engaging and original.
When Bob died in January 2020, I noted in this column that “He lived a fascinating life, and generously shared that personal history, and the wit and wisdom that came with it.” And I cribbed from a column I wrote on the occasion of his retirement. Here are a few excerpts (yup, plagiarizing myself again, or you could call it “repurposing”):
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 … 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.
We miss Bob, but his legacy endures. You could see it in the faces, and hear it in the voices, of those who came together in his memory. It’s still his community.